“You must alter yourself, or we shan’t have happy lives.”
Oh, the surety of Edwardian wisdom!
Imperious as the beloved dead Queen,
these sisterly words (from wise to foolish)
convey a certain heft: We’re in this together,
basis of all girl-talk, what traces its way
back to some cave or, okay, just outside –
two squat females with just-honed slate
scraping flesh from a still-warm hide
while multi-tasking, softly conspiring
for their greater good, swapping notes
regarding his temper, how to ease it,
their only tools a coded eye-roll,
a whispered heads-up like the above,
Margaret’s wish that Helen dump her project,
her protégée, the sad-sack cockney clerk,
Helen’s urge to better him a burden,
a leaden yoke on their shared neck,
Margaret’s words so the same as Krishna’s
when Arjuna declared he would not fight,
swaths of the Gita devoted to this:
Warriors war . . . because that is their station.
Same as poor clerks must hold situations,
same as Forster must write and (if we believe
Naipal) have his way with Bengali boys
before living on . . . on, even till 1968,
the time-traveler outside whose window
a strange, empireless England swung . . .
Mods, Rockers, Stones and Twiggys in full swirl,
Helen’s rejection of class gone global -
all of us still lifting our eyes unto the hills,
but our help these days cometh from within.
We dream, we parade, we weep, we bugger.
We’re still not quite free. We want happy lives.