Miss Nelson’s Gift

Lorraine Gibson

‘All this [s]he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as [s]he looked, [s]he lived; and still, as [s]he lived, [s]he wondered.’
– Kenneth Grahame, ‘The Wind in the Willows’. 1908.

Miss Violet Nelson, 
1950s spinster teacher, puffed clouds of 
silky Lily-of-the-valley talcum-powder 
over parched décolletage, untouched
(said some) by other loving hands
for forty Scottish winters. She was
tall for a woman of her time; graceful
as summer’s weeping willow. 
Miss Nelson wrapped herself in unassuming 
fair-isle cardigans, hand-knitted slowly
like her years. Her modest knee-length skirts
in ‘tasteful’ twills or tweeds were woven
by ‘new-fangled’ industrial machines:
‘Shop-bought’ (said some) as markers
of a rising class.
Her classroom hummed with radiator warmth
while we her Highland infants, sat upright
behind our inky oakwood desks in order
of our labelled merit.
Up and down between bowed heads 
Miss Nelson, bending, swaying,  
dusted us with chalk and magic
worlds. She took the runny-nosed who wore
the phlegm of disadvantage.
She took the well-blessed, well-fed few
wearing thick wool socks.
She took the smart and not so smart to
would be—could be lands—together. 
We messed about in boats with Ratty
warmed our toes and ate hot buttered toast 
at Moly’s cozy winter fire.
And for a time, a chapter’s length, wise
Badger (unlike some fathers we had known)
kept us safe.

Looking back 
some sixty years, I understand
Miss Nelson offered me
her passion for creativity.
Looking back,  
I like to think
at least one year
Miss Nelson got to see 
the Costa Brava. 
I like to think she tasted
Spanish garlic 
in the eager mouth of some Emilio or
Isabella. I like to think she stored
the heat of summer lovers’ 
her petticoats.
I like to think Miss Nelson knew
the value
of the lifelong gift she gave us.

Lorraine Gibson is a Scottish-Australian anthropologist, writer and painter living on Birpai Country. Her poetry is published in Backstory Journal, Booranga fourW 32, Burrow Literary Journal, Hecate, Live Encounters Poetry and Writing, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Meniscus Literary Journal, Poetry for The Planet (anthology), The Galway Review, WORDCITY, and others. Lorraine’s non-fiction is published internationally in books and journals. Her ethnography ‘We Don’t Do Dots: Aboriginal Art and Culture in Wilcannia New South Wales’ is published by Sean Kingston Publishing: Herefordshire, UK.



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