Monday Poem: “The Lay Sister” by Bernadette Hall

The Monday Poem

While I was looking for inspiration for one of my own poems this week, I found this amazing site called Best New Zealand Poems. It was run by the Victoria University from 2001-2005, collecting poems from New Zealand poets, and it’s definitely worth a look through. One of my favourites of those I read was The Lay Sister by Bernadette Hall. Like e.e. cummings’ poem last week, it is somewhat humorous, but I chose it more because I loved the structure than for the content:

The Lay Sister by Bernadette Hall

The lay sister slides her hands
through holy water. Chops
onions, carrots, celery

in that order. Splits
blocks of wattle. Her hands
are fat on the axe handles.

‘Good God,’ says the Bishop,
slipping another smoke ring
round the crystalline throat

of the Portuguese sherry
decanter. ‘That woman
would knock you down as good

as look at you!’ The lay sister
is as rough as guts, speaks
Irish rather than English,

sleeps through the mission,
eats by herself in the kitchen.
Sometimes however

they do let her answer
the door and it’s ‘Excuse me,
Reverend Mother, there’s

a piano in the parlour’
(that’s the given code word
for a man) and she’s not able

to keep herself from laughing
then, imagining knocking
a fine old tune out of him.

courtesy of Best New Zealand Poems

I love the subtle way the rhyme is just tucked into the verse (end rhymes are so blatant and have a tendency to wear out quickly, in my opinion). And, of course, the depiction of the Sister herself makes me smile. I get a very strong image of her and her personality even from this small description, and the ending is just a treat to read. I was very impressed by this poem.

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