He had time to wrap an ounce of butter,
bag broken biscuits, weigh ham bones,
scoop fragrant leaf-tea into greaseproof twists.
Time to stack tins in pyramids,
set out sliced bread in red-checked wrappers.
Time for the skinny, barefoot kids,
huge-eyed, spending farthings from their gran
on tiny dippy-bags of sugared coconut
or dried-up custard creams.
And time for the wrinkled, black-clad Mary-Ellens,
chroniclers of births and deaths, keepers of sorrows.
Shuffling down cobbled streets
they gossiped on rickety chairs,
easing out hoarded coppers
for one ham slice, feather-light on the old brass scale,
a bone for broth, a lump of dripping,
tea-dust scooped from the chest’s dark depth.
Shaun, white-coated, ox-strong
from hefting flitches, hauling butter tubs,
sometimes slipped them an egg,
a knob of cheese, some sugar lumps,
smiling as he closed their wrinkled fingers
over the proffered pennies
clutched in knotted hands.