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Pickle Me This

February 20, 2007


Now reading Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford. Though, indeed, it is ever-so-popular to dislike the Mifords (because, really, grumpy people must find it within themselves to hate anything the least bit fabulous lest the universe be disturbed), I’ve been a fan since I read The Mitford Girls in 2003. Though by no means are their stories comfortable, they’re undeniably storied stories and I love them for that reason. Anyway, Decca’s letters run long and of course with my appetite for fiction, I’ll only be able to read them in dribs and drabs by my bedside. Like treats to savour. In celebration I will reshare with you my favourite poem I ever wrote, Mitford-inspired or otherwise.

Extremism was so fashionable that first season

“Why must all my daughters fall for dictators?”
~ Lady Redesdale (Sydney Mitford)

Extremism was so fashionable
that first season.

At the races my daughter won herself a diplomat
and my husband and I my husband and I
concerned with crashing stocks had our veritable sigh
and we folded our hands and nodded then,
as he stood on a box and took up his pen
because she looked on so loving
I couldn’t help but be pleased,
in spite of his wife, in spite of their life
and his radical politics leaning far right.

There was the matter of war in Spain
which (she said) was just a prelude.

This was the littlest daughter, always contrary,
“I will run away, you’ll all be sorry.”
When she finally fled, it was to throes of war
and she didn’t bring a stitch to wear,
to fight for the reds or marry for love
just to be where the action was happening.
She had to deny her former life
to prove her worth as working-class wife,
they came back to fight for the cause from their home
on the slummier side of South London.

The man of the year was a small man
seeking room to grow.

My middle daughter found him on her travels
my sullen, silly girl, by his words became so serious
when she sang them in her own voice
we consented, it was her choice
but he was such a charming gentleman
when he had us all to tea.
(But this is when the trouble starts, as you will see)

Solidarity was demanded on the homefront
but for us, this was impossible.

My golden older daughter and her lover- now her husband-
the coincidence of their ideological proximity
translated to sympathy for the enemy
and this daughter of mine, fond of long days and wine,
spent war years charming the Holloway Prison for Women.

The littlest one fled to America, still wedded to her cause,
kept her affiliations testifiable, and sincerity undeniable-
she had rallies and babies and books to write and
for seventeen years she refused to cross the line,
she fought the fascist front known as The Family

My husband and I- my husband and,
as his opinion of the Germans was established years before
when he’d lost a lung fighting in the First World War
and he could not abide by the company
of the leader with whom I’d had the pleasure of tea.

Especially not while the world was coming apart
at its bursting Versaillesian seams.

And my silly daughter could not abide by bursting seams
to choose between England and the man of her dreams
on September first, nineteen thirty-nine
she put a gun to her temple in an attempt to stop time.

My outspoken daughters had been drawn to men
who could outspeak them.

They dared to defy us with dictators- an original act of rebellion-
typical; no middle men, they loved instead
their moustaches and regalia their marching men with unbending knees
Prussian fortitude, Yugoslavian ingenuity
and all those ideals that had the trains run on time.
I could not raise a shallow woman; my daughters
my twentieth-century casualties, there was a time
behind every powerful man was a good woman
and I had birthed nearly all of them.

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