“If these children need me in days of sunshine,
how much more do they need me in days of darkness?”
You rose each day at 5am to go
to market for their food, sliced your leather
luggage into strips they’d use for soles
on worn-out shoes, paid for everything
on trips to beach or town, sewed clothes
back into life for those in need of more
than hand-me-downs, you, the second mother.
Two days before your death, you wrote
There is not much to report from here.
There wouldn’t be, no excursions to arrange
to forest or museum or picture house,
no growing hands & fingernails to inspect,
only memories of how you wept
along with them when stitching yellow stars
onto their uniforms, refused to leave
for safety, stayed right to the very end
for & alongside them, your girls.
You lived & breathed your school motto, learning elevates,
a missionary not just for church but life
itself passed on from Lochenhead, Dumfries,
Glasgow all the way to Budapest
& into every small, attentive head
you ever turned away from darker days
toward the brightness of an opened book.
Streets, stained glass windows, a commemorative
cairn exist to honour you who saw mountains
on the way not just to Heaven but to Auschwitz.
And yet a little girl of 97
is your true memorial, carries you
as surely as you carried her into
that sunshine, smiles still as she talks of times
Miss Haining took the girls on woodland walks
or to see the latest Judy Garland;
tributes of smile, of breath, of memory
that she paid for everything so they could live.
About this poem
Broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland to mark 2018’s Holocaust Memorial Day.