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The Exact Moment I Became a Poet by Paula Meehan

for Kay Foran

published in As If By Magic: Selected Poems (WFUP, 2021)

was in 1963 when Miss Shannon rapping the duster on the easel’s peg half obscured by a cloud of chalk

said Attend to your books, girls, or mark my words, you’ll end up in the sewing factory.

It wasn’t just that some of the girls’ mothers worked in the sewing factory or even that my own aunt did,

and many neighbours, but that those words ‘end up’ robbed the labour of its dignity.

Not that I knew it then, not in those words—labour, dignity. That’s all back construction,

making sense; allowing also the teacher was right and no one knows it like I do myself.

But: I saw them: mothers, aunts and neighbours trussed like chickens on a conveyor belt,

getting sewn up the way my granny sewed the sage and onion stuffing in the birds.

Words could pluck you, leave you naked, your lovely shiny feathers all gone.

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