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Jenny Mitchell: a poem

Winter Fireflies

Red tinsel cannot make the Christmas tree a bright hibiscus

on sun-dappled soil. Buds formed with fuchsia baubles

can't be plucked, worn in my mother's hair when young.

A string of festoon lights on every branch aren't fireflies,

winking at a tropic sky chock-full of stars, moon dazzling

on dark indigo. No humid sky at all but a damp stain

spreads across the ceiling of my mother's council flat –

chipped paint along the skirting, ice on broken panes,

repairs not done despite her letters of complaint. Fifty

years or more, she's prettified her home, stepping on

a chair – harsh, creaking sound – to decorate the tree

as if for Carnival – gold bells like flames, a vain attempt

to feel heat rising from this winter symbol. It stays cold,

even with more lights strewn across each branch. A fairy

lifts her wings, flies up to the pinnacle – strange, glowing

twin of the island in the sun mother left behind to slave

long shifts for the NHS. In exchange – a tight uniform,

three hot meals, reduced these days. The cost of living

trees leads her to buy an artificial one. It cannot breathe,

won't grow sick or die. She stumbles out of breath,

climbs down from the chair, hangs a wealth of greeting cards

around the bulging middle – nothing like the giant palms

waving at a carefree girl who sailed away from home as,

voice now frail, mother calls her island in the sun.

Jenny Mitchell won the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize 2023 for a single poem and the Poetry Book Awards 2021 for her second collection, Map of a Plantation, which is on the syllabus at Manchester Metropolitan University. The best-selling, prize-winning debut collection, Her Lost Language, is One of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 (Poetry Wales), and her latest collection, Resurrection of a Black Man, contains three prize-winning poems and is featured on the U.S. podcast Poetry Unbound. She’s won numerous competitions, is widely-published and has performed at the Houses of Parliament.

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