For years you kept your accent
in a box beneath the bed,
the lock rusted shut by hours of elocution
how now brown cow
the teacher’s ruler across your legs.
We heard it escape sometimes,
a guttural uh on the phone to your sister,
saft or blart to a taxi driver
unpacking your bags from his boot.
I loved its thick drawl, g’s that rang.
Clearing your house, the only thing
I wanted was that box, jemmied open
to let years of lost words spill out –
bibble, fittle, tay, wum,
vowels ferrous as nails, consonants
you could lick the coal from.
I wanted to swallow them all: the pits,
railways, factories thunking and clanging
the night shift, the red brick
back-to-back you were born in.
I wanted to forge your voice
in my mouth, a blacksmith’s furnace;
shout it from the roofs,
send your words, like pigeons,
fluttering for home.
from Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014), first published in The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls (Tall Lighthouse, 2010), Liz Berry 2010, used by permission of the author and the publisher.