Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Poetry & Stories
2 December 2020

The NS Poem: Trojan

A new poem by Paul Bailey. 

By Paul Bailey

My mother was christened Helen Maud
during one of the last Victorian Septembers,
but when she gave birth to me –
dangerously late in life –
she was no longer Helen.

The people who said that she worked like a Trojan
didn’t have Helen of Troy in mind.
The woman they praised was the reliable Maud –
a deeply respectful mother and wife 
and the best of all possible servants.
She was the salt of the earth, if anyone was.
They wished there were more of her kind in the world.

There were more than enough of her kind in the world I grew up in:
Maud’s sisters, Maud’s friends, those hosts of similar Mauds
who worked their “fingers to the bone”,
as they were proud of stating.
My childhood was engulfed by them.

After Maud’s death, I had a glimpse of Helen
in a photo taken sometime in the 1920s.
Helen’s eyes are shining, while her smiling lips
seem to be poised for seduction.
She could be Clara Bow or Theda Bara, a temptress of the silver screen,
ready to spread herself out on an ottoman
covered in tiger skin.
The man behind the camera must be fancying her rotten
as she gives him the come-on.

My mother a vamp? I thought of the legendary Helen
launching those fated thousand ships
and heard Maud’s voice berating me.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

I was to know my place, Maud said.
I was to marry and settle down
and be a respectable breadwinner.

Content from our partners
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs
Flooding is a major risk for our homes

Maud reminded her son, in excess of the thousandth time,
that the trouble with having brains is that they give you ideas.

Paul Bailey is a British novelist, critic and poet. “Joie de Vivre”, his next collection of poems, will be published by CB Editions in May 2021.

This article appears in the 02 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Crashed