Helen Dunmore's National Poetry Competition-winning poem (2010)
Why did you tell them to be quiet
and sit up straight until you came back?
The malarkey would have led you to them.
You go from one parked car to another
and peer through the misted windows
before checking the registration.
Your pocket bulges. You've bought them sweets
but the mist is on the inside of the windows.
How many children are breathing?
The malarkey's over in the back of the car.
The day is over outside the windows.
No street light has come on.
You fed them cockles soused in vinegar,
you took them on the machines.
You looked away just once.
You looked away just once
as you leaned on the chip-shop counter,
and forty years were gone.
You have been telling them for ever
Stop that malarkey in the back there!
Now they have gone and done it.
Is that mist, or water with breath in it?
© Helen Dunmore