I let him believe I'm fourteen; old enough
to be a clog-maker. The rough, green overall
tied tight around my waist gives me the figure
I haven't got: I comb my fringe to the side.
Uppers hang in the workshop like kippers;
the genuine smell of leather all around.
Gripping the sycamore sole between my legs,
I squeeze my knees together, like mam
says I always should, and hammer like hell
at the horse-shoe, braying the nails into the wood:
Slicing leather with the sharpest knife in the world;
my hands bleeding, like Christ up on the cross.
Soon I'll be promoted to stretching the skins
over metal lasts, if I keep my head down.
My workmates are five sisters, all would-be
opera singers. Listen, you can hear them
even now: Si tu ne m'aimes pas prends garde à toi!
And old Ebanezer next door, stitching:
Our would-be baritone. Every morning
we're greeted by a long-tail that runs along the pipes.
The same R.A.T. (for it's unlucky to say the word),
comes out again at noon, scurrying around
like a frantic clerk of works, on the look out
for idle crumbs. The loud clock ticka ticka ticka ticks
its way to Friday when the shop window is filled
with beautiful black clogs, perched in pairs
on shelves, like lovebirds, and I collect my
seven and six. That's when I leave work
by the front door, so I can pass the window -
and Fenwick's with its felt hats and blouses
made from the finest of satins and silks.
Catherine Graham lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. She is a Northern Voices Poetry Award winner as well as being winner of the Northumberland Writers' Special Award, adjudicated by the acclaimed poet, Pat Borthwick. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies in the UK and Ireland as well as on the web. Catherine has read at numerous poetry events including the Durham Literature Festival, with ID on Tyne, Northern Stage and Amnesty International Poetry Benefits. Catherine's poem Hyem (Home) is a featured poem at the 60th Anniversary of the Festival of Britain exhibition, Southbank Centre, London 2011. Her chapbook collection, Signs is published by ID on Tyne Press, 2010.
I mentioned to my mother that I was writing a series of poems about women and work. I was fascinated to learn that her first job was as a clog-maker. After listening to her stories, I just had to write the poem.
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Making Clogs at Gallowgate © 2010 Catherine Graham: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.