She was dropped on a foul night into a running gutter
for death’s welcome that would do for her by morning.
Except a man, walking with eyes downcast in grief,
saw the baby, plucked her up, tucked her,
naked and silent, into his own coat,
walked three miles to the convent door
and passed her in.
The sister asked for a name.
He mouthed the one on his mind —
his dead wife, Jenny.
Under the rule of woman, belt and crucifix,
she turned out a thriver, learnt to scorn weakness.
She was sweet-faced, nimble-fingered and obedient
once the devils her mother’s sins had left in her
were beaten out. On his weekly visit to hear confession,
the priest would abase himself for a girl of five or less,
a sacrifice. He favoured Jenny.
Afterwards, the nuns would scourge the girl
in case she should believe herself desired.
The child kept close within the convent walls.
She did not like fresh air, feared storms and rain,
so made herself of use inside to all.
By nine she was adept at mending torn habits
and could make adjustments to the robes of priests,
could stitch and darn, tend a bitch at whelp,
scrub and scour and sluice and help to save
the nuns from giving birth to bastards.
When at twelve she bled, they heaped on
blessings and holy water. Gave her to the world.