Matchgirls at Whitsun, 1888
by Emma Purshouse
Matchgirls at Whitsun, 1888 is the Poetry category Runner Up in the 2020 Matchgirls Creative Arts Competition run in partnership with Pen to Print
They clatter out of the Paragon
fringed, feathered, foul-mouthed,
singing at voice tops, filling the air
with sparking exuberance. Arm in arm,
a battalion in beer, cheeking the chaps
that cat call from curb sides offering to treat them.
Mary doubles up with laughter so hard
she says it makes her teeth ache.
At each alley way and street corner
they turn another girl loose until
only two are left to say goodnight.
Maggie becomes a song disappearing
into darkness. Sarah at the lodging door
hopes Mrs Meany has glued herself to sleep
amongst finished boxes stacked high
on the table. Hopes she isn’t waiting up
with a What time do you call this?
a You’ll catch it when they lock you out
for half the day, a whispered Baggage,
phossy jaw set to chew so hard at Sarah
she has to look away. Hopes there’ll be no
Out on your ear if you don’t make the rent,
to follow her up the wooden hill,
to a damp bed shared with a killed mood,
to work rosary beads through her fingers,
pray for change, wake in the night with a start
to see her work things glowing away
on the chair. Like an omen or a visitation.
Emma Purshouse is currently the Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton. She writes for both children and adults. Her most recent poetry collection is ‘'Close’ (Offa’s Press). Her first novel ‘Dogged’ (Ignite Books) was published early in 2021. Emma has performed her work at spoken word nights and festivals across the UK.