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Eliza / Liz Berry

This beautiful Queen-Mab-like poem is from Liz Berry's collection Home Child describing the life of a 12-year-old orphan, Eliza Showell sent to Nova Scotia in the early 20th century as an indentured servant. The play of the language, the lattice of assonance and consonants, makes a wild flower wreath of holiness: "The world is too alive to be down".


Queen of all wet-the-beds and dander,

common nettles and dock,

sticklebacks, angle shades, sparrows, lice,

moles hung from nails like velvet gloves.

In the lezzer beyond the cut, see her -

queen of dung beetles and dog violets,

a crown on her head of all the town's daisies,

grime on their petal tips. Eliza

pursing her lips to a grass-blade,

calling up its music: come on come up!

The world is too alive to be down

in the dark, too afire, too fledgy.

Eliza's hair, dirty sorrel in sunlight,

lights the long grass ablaze.

Little queen of Fiery Holes,

with her back-to-back court, all its slum

and love, its cram like a burrow.

Eliza, queen of all lowly creeping souls,

all toilers and darklings. All shunned things

lay their blessings

at her wet and holey stockinged feet.

Long live the queen! Happiness is a wind

that whistles straight through.

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