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27 July 2022

The NS Poem: Kindertransport

A new poem by Craig Raine.

By Craig Raine

A single cornflake in Vienna.
Brittle dark-gold henna.

Returned from England, her teacher
gave the class one each.

She remembered how it tasted
when, ten years later, she fled

a raft of racial laws
against the Jews,

and came to England.
One suitcase heavy in both hands.

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Her father had been President
of the Österreichischer Fußball-Bund.

In Oxford, she was a nursery maid,
grateful to work for food and board.

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After the war, she married Humphries,
older, a dentist, with open eyes.

It wasn’t a love match.
All that was Quatsch.

Two sons later,
no longer slender,

she metamorphosed into a matron,
a widow with a bungee-jump bosom.
I remember her, fearless,
in a bouncing sleeveless dress

and burly sandals,
facing down a vandal,

a skinhead in the University Parks,
tearing the bark

off a sapling. A mountain ash.
She ran to him across the grass.

“You mustn’t. Don’t be silly.
If you do that, you’ll kill it.”

As if he didn’t know. Litter likewise:
“Excuse me, I think you forgot this.”

A year of cancer operations,
of pointless surgical interventions,

left her thin
as a prepubescent girl again.

“This is my proper weight.
Years of over-eating, I’m afraid.”

Thin and humbled.
Humbled, not humble,

as we are at our end. Our flood
a riverbed’s mosaic of mud.

Craig Raine is a poet, novelist and critic, and was the editor of “Areté” magazine

Read more poetry published in the New Statesman here

This article appears in the 27 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Special