Year: 1938

by June Saunders  

From Tinsel…Tinsel
(The scene, a university ball, ca 1938)

Bright eyes has Folly, lips that laugh and lure‑
At eight! . . . Dinner at eight . . . I know the phrase.
At eight the masks are donned, new masks bestowed
By Folly on her guests, replacing those
We wore by day, for they were plain and showed
Candour, indifference, or tranquillity;


And thus completes the work begun at seven,
When every woman thrust a swelling foot
Into a fragile high-heeled silver shoe‑
A dancing shoe! And every man put on
Stiff-white, smooth black…The uniform of fools
Is black and white, be it on men within
The prison walls, or on this boasting crowd
Without. Like magpies robed they chatter on,
Believing they are free, yet gazing at
The world about through bars intangible
And playing out each night their silly game
Of carnival 'neath Mistress Folly's eye.

………………………………we sit
Holding our knives and forks impeccably,
In perfect trained politeness nibbling fish
Like great performing seals, except that we
Make banal conversation, and the seals
At least are silent. Too, they hunger.

……………………. The music swells
In some barbaric tune until the wail
Of saxophone that mocked a sobbing girl
Is now a shrilling harridan. The drums
Go crashing one, as monsters through the young
Upgrowth of my bewildered thoughts. How hot
The air that rises from a polished floor
In pulsing, dusty waves! I feel a shock
Of swift revulsion and in sudden fear
Grind out the cigarette on which I drew.
Its red tip mocked me.


O bitterly and bitterly I repent
The waste of time in this. The dancers' feet
Sound in a pause of music‑aimless scrape
Of sliding shoes on polished floor. I think
Of children's little feet that patter through
The hearts of mothers, or the martial tread
Of soldiers
Making the women's faces blanch, and then
I hear the dragging feet of nameless girls
Who wander through the streets, or hungry men
Seeking in vain a chance to earn for bread‑
Or beer‑what matter? All these steps that ring
Strike notes of joy, of pathos, terror, pain,
But dancing feet just make this meaningless
Jumble of sounds that smites against my ears,
Rebounding dully………..

……… Once more we talk amidst a haze
Of faint blue cigarette smoke, and I laugh
Again and yet again, the while my voice,
Always so clear and loud, rings out above
The others. . . To me the brilliant lights,
The heated air, the glasses, and the frocks
Are glittering so brightly that it seems
Incredible the little girl I hide

Within should not have warned me long ago
That all this easy brilliance we display
Is tinsel. With the wisdom of a child,
She'd see it straight away. Perhaps, she did,
But I refused to heed until to-night.
So here I sit among
The tinsel of the circus ring, and talk
In this clear, brittle voice, for I exchange
Tinsel for tinsel . . . But I must not laugh
Again. The other slaves would think it strange
Unless the joke were obvious to all,
And I am out of favour since I sat
Detached from them for quite a little while,
And did not barter, though I heard the cry
"Tinsel for tinsel!" and the crack of whips . .
                                       Sherwood, May, 1938
                                       June Saunders