Washing the Money

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At weekends, my father and younger sister
scrubbed the Queen’s obdurate lips in the bathroom basin
where plain soap, warm water
made money a clean creation.
The silk grease of pounds, maroon tint of ‘fivers’,
the crisper starch of a ten shilling note
snapped and capered under his fingertips.

I saw millions of unmatched fingerprints,
bone transparent, brittle snail shells
bump around the rim.
Nothing strange in washing the currency
which lay exhausted like strained, wet cabbage.

Then they ironed it dry between best linen tea towels
while my mother hovered, grim;
‘Oh darl,’ she said, ‘don’t singe them.’
Puffs of rich steam jumped up
over that pair of alchemists’ shoulders
who, oblivious, never asked
if she meant the tea towels or the money.

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