Fanny Hines lost her fiancé on
a battlefield in France in 1915.
He was not lost, but battered
by a barrage of bullets and bayonets
beating his dead body into the mud.
Left for carrion and then decay.
Forgotten bones in a foreign place.
After 1918 Fanny had no prospects,
and no immediate memorial to visit.
When the white granite column was ready
Fanny only visited once, then bypassed
every annual November ceremony.
She had no other suitors, only rejections,
so she studied languages at university.
Some years later she enacted her bitter frustrations
teaching teenage girls French.
It wasn’t teaching, but demanding that
lists of verbs be recited and vocabulary repeated.
She sat at a tall wooden desk and victimised
girls who made mistakes, by tearing and shredding
frayed cotton handkerchiefs on her lap
while small fibres of white littered the floor.
She did not correct mistakes that they made,
but tersely told them to sit down,
as spots of spit flew out of her tight mouth.
It is always better to defend yourself
against tyrants and their tyranny
risking endless unfair detentions,
rather than allow them to erode
your confidence with their spiteful missions.
At parent-teacher interviews when subjects
were diligently discussed by concerned parents
Fanny merely prevaricated and suggested
more and frequent homework assignments
to achieve satisfactory marks.
She was always the first teacher to leave.
She would blossom once a year, blushingly,
in front of the inspector who arrived
to test the teenage girls’ mastery
of oral French assignments.
She was sycophantically attentive.
The class was amazed at the transformation
and had been duly previously threatened
by mountains of shredded handkerchiefs,
to try the test phrases which stuck
at the back of her contaminated throat.
Those girls who had a smattering
of correct French pronunciation
took tea and biscuits to the inspector.
Fanny managed to produce a series
of alienated, distanced and disinterested
classes of students who never wanted
to hear of French lessons again.