east india company wives

husband and wife©papa osmubal

husband and wife©papa osmubal

east india company wives
barbara rendall

The old, far world has grown so small,
Reduced by the long voyage to a miniature on the wall,
To just a lovely, distant story
In which they lost themselves one gentle afternoon
(Though they barely remember how afternoons were gentle).

Shanghaied from their country gardens,
Their hill-tucked English villages,
All rural courtesy and ritual–
What can make them happy here?

On this strangely dry protruberance,
The fraying edge of Asia,
There’s little gentleness and no true green
Despite the warmth, the sudden violent rains,
The thick brown flow of river all around;

The air, like layers of infinite damp blankets,
Stills them to inaction,
Drenches them with sweat they never knew they had,
Reduces them to just their petticoats,
Traps them on strange Iberian balconies over the sea
In a life at the edge of an enormous cup of tea–

The slow, dull effort to recreate the social niceties
And life itself, from scratch, amid such strangeness;
Husbands up-river in China with dubious cargo on their minds,
Help that does not help,
Odd bugs in the cakes, old recipes that fail,

The moldering of walls and clothes and purpose,
The children left behind,
The flowered cups  and saucers broken on the voyage,
And the fragile sense of self that cracked in transit
And lies beneath a slowly-turning fan, past salvaging.

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