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Bread Without Butter

Bread Without Butter

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And my mother is trying to tell me something

in a voice I don’t understand and I’m listening hard,
worrying she’ll think I’m a teenager again, flaunting
in front of her and refusing to listen
and Mama I say I am listening but I’m not sure what
you want and I revert to her old name Mama,
offering my hair for a brush and a braid, it will hurt,
it always does. A carer comes in to paint her nails
and I say No!
And the carer says she always liked
to look smart and I say but she’s past that now
and the carer says how would you know? I’m angry,
not wanting to hear a stranger knows my mother
better than I do, my mother whispers, rwy’n ar goll
I lean in, she pats my hand, takes a chunk of my hair,
ready for me to lead her on.

rwy’n ar goll I’m lost


Wendy French is an editor and a poet and the former head of a small school in a psychiatric hospital. Bread without Butter is her fifth full poetry collection and is about family relationships, in particular concerning her mother and grandparents who lived in a Welsh-speaking farming community, very different from the Wales of the twenty-first century.


"With warmth and unsentimentality Wendy French relives her family's life across generations, particularly her roots in rural Wales. Often through staunch, simple details, she conveys a sense of the human spirit."  Moniza Alvi

"The past is never past and the dead are never dead in Wendy French's radiant new collection, her mother's distant voice is in the pull of her hairbrush, and her father still turns on a walk, a revenant long after his time, to look for the others. The Welsh farmyard, fields, bacon frying, and softly-spoken stories are at the heart of rich poems."  Michael Hulse