Betty Collins was born in 1928 in Cape Town, South Africa, where she raised three
children and managed libraries for the City of Cape Town. After she retired, she followed
her daughters to Adelaide, where she had the leisure to pursue her interest in poetry
and enjoy the stimulation of Friendly Street Poets and other groups. Betty died in 2012.
Why Old Ladies Feed Birds
I think I know why old ladies feed birds:
it’s because they’re pretty, and they don’t
answer back like children and husbands
used to do; they don’t complain
that the food is too hot or too cold or too salty or stodgy
and that they aren’t hungry, anyway. They eat
everything eagerly, and it doesn’t matter
if they haven’t washed their hands
or cleaned their teeth.
Birds, wild birds, don’t have to be called,
don’t need a table, pots or pans, or washing up,
don’t have to be taken to the vet,
don’t get the pip, and if any of them die,
you never know.
When you’re an old lady you can rejoice in the
glorious freedom and strength of the wings
that carry them in a way you never could,
but can now, in dreams.
Any ill-feelings you can take out on cats,
and the owners of cats
which leaves you with quite a few people
to cuddle up with and something to write
to the papers and complain about.
Birds are always there when you need them.
Now I am an old lady, I know why
I have always had a bird bath in my garden,
and why I sit in the hide of my kitchen door,
sipping tea, contemplating the rainbow flutter
of scattered holy water
watching the picking and prancing sparrows, hearing
the curdle of magpies, and dreaming
one of the rosellas alights on my hand.
From Flow: Friendly Street No. 25
There I am,
In that group of schoolgirls,
(I’m the one with the pigtails, at the back)
We were on our way to sing in the Eisteddfod
And we won the Gold Medal:
There I am again,
Among students on a mountain expedition;
And at graduation, in cap and gown;
And that’s me,
A tiny dot scurrying across the tarmac at the airport
Heading for the big adventure, ‘Overseas’.
I’m crowing over my newborn child,
Crying at my father’s funeral,
Cheering in the crowd at a school’s Gala Day.
And then, at the Seniors’ Club, drinking tea:
At last, I’m in that brightly floral cortege
Winding over the hill
But you can’t see
From Another Universe: Friendly Street No. 28
My First Librarian Was A Greek
And he couldn’t speak much English,
but he knew the value of a sixpence.
My first librarian seemed very, very old;
He wore a crumpled dark striped suit,
a heavy silver watch chain looped across his concave middle,
buttoned waistcoat, thin shirt.
He was bent and nervous and twitched a bit
a scraggly iron coloured moustache draped
beneath craggy nose and sucked in cavernous cheeks.
He was my first librarian because he bought books.
Auction lot books: Robinson Crusoe and Marie Corelli
Walter Scott, and The Water Babies;
The Jungle Book, and Peter Pan,
Grubby paperbacks: Raymond Chandler and Peter Cheyney
Dickens and the Brontes; Superman and Batman Comics
Strange books in tiny ancient print, faded covers, and esses for effs:
Books covered in strange waxy brown paper,
Spotted with candle grease; books with loose pages
And split edges:
Some had marbled frontispieces, or were leather bound:
A whole world of riches stacked front edge down in untidy rows
On an old kitchen table on the pavement outside the shop
Half in the sun in a road at the end of which you glimpsed the sea.
The sign above the shop said ‘BARBER & WATCHMAKER’
The sign on the table said ‘BOOKS 6d’
Sometimes I had sixpence.
I could stand at the table for days
and read every book on it while deciding which one to buy.
Sure, he did chivvy me a little bit.
Then I would buy one
And bring it back the next day,
Saying I didn’t like it, and wanted to change it.
Somewhere in that immigrant father in those sad depression years
There surely burned something of the fire of the Greeks of old:
He never chased me away:
And in those days we all knew the value of sixpence.
From Blur: Friendly Street No. 29