Wives of Nursery rhymes : Carol Ann Duffy

Little Red Cap

At childhood’s end, the houses peered out
into playing fields, the factory, all apartments
Kept like mistresses, by kneeling men,
the silent railway line, the hermits caravan,
till you come at last to the edge of the woods.
It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf.

He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud
In his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw,
red wine staining his bearded jaw. What big ears
he had! What big eyes he had! What teeth!

In the interval, I made Quite sure he spotted me,
sweet sixteen, never been, babe,waif, and brought me a drink,
my first. You might ask why. Here is why. Poetry.
The wolf, I knew , would lead me deep into the woods,

away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place
lit ny the eyes of owls. I crawled in his wake,
my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my bkazer
snagged on twig and branch, murder clues. I lost both shoes.

but go there, wolf’s lair , better beware. Lesson one that
breath of wolf in my car, was the love poem.
I clung till dawn to his trashing fur, for
what little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?

Then I slid from between his heavy matted paws
and went in search of a living bird-white dove-


I flew in my chainsover the wood where we’d burried
the doll. I know it was me who was there.
I know I carried the spade. I know I wascovered in mud.
But I cannot remember how or when or precisely where.

Nobody liked my hair. Nobody liked how I spoke,
He held my heart in his fist and he squeezed it dry.
I gave cameras my medusa stare.
I heard the judge summing up. I didn’t care.

I was left to to rot. I was locked up, double-locked.
I know they chucked the key. It was nowt to me.
I wrote to him every day in our private code.
I thought in twelve, fifteen, we’d be out on the open road.

But life, they said, means life. Dying inside.
The Devil was evil, mad, but I was the Devil’s wife
which made me worse. I howled in my cell.
If the Devil was gone then how could this be hell?

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