Alternative Alice. When Wonderland Went Wrong.

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Oxford was weird. When I went there to college, a long time ago, what happened to me? What happened to girls like me from Northern nothing when they stepped through that portal. Who were they? When they came out and went through were they still themselves.

So many questions to be answered. Oxford was a mirrorland. A place I would look at myself and see who I was.

Could a youngster hold onto who they were when they were changed forever? It was a crucible in which my identity would be fired, fixed, made.

Land of Shelley, town of poets, university of upper class Englishness, of story and Alice, Alice, always Alice. Could I live on a boat, could I pass my exams? Questions.

Class, class, and was I still Alice? The character from the books that I most identified with, growing up. Curiouser and curiouser.

Please have a cup of tea, a glass of sherry, while we discuss your essay on Pope. Cosmetics and imperialism in The Rape of the Lock.

The accusations started before I set foot through the door. You’ll no longer be one of us. This from the adults, not from my friends. Maybe they were right.

I had to rebel against it, pull the other way. Afterwards I went to squat in East London and do experimental music, but I couldn’t go backwards. It was true, Oxford had changed me forever, I was a clever fool and I couldn’t scrub myself clean of it. Oxford had gone in too deep.

The Mirror

How had she come here?
That answer was easy.
She had looked in the mirror.
Then she had walked into the mirror
at which moment
she walked into herself.
Or not herself, but herself
in mirror world. Where she
was still herself.

She was still Alice.
Alice was a fixed point in time.
She was safe only in
who she thought she was
while everything
around her was changing
so fast, faster than breakfast
down to dinner and sleep
and the next day on its crazy round
of meals and conversations.

Time was backwards
but she was still going forwards
when the White Queen tried
to grab her escaping shawl,
flinched at her own blood
and finally pricked her skin
as Alice helped her fasten
the cloth around her shoulders.
Alice tried her best to help the Queen.
but Alice hadn’t understood
that it was Alice who was wrong.
‘I’m talking to myself again,’ she noticed.

She was still a child,
and her confusion was that of a child’s.
These adults, even if they were chess pieces
ran past her complaining and crying
until the knight caught her in his arms
and lifted her high in the air.
She didn’t want to be a prisoner.
She needed to cross the brook
and become Queen Alice

but the White Knight was too strong,
holding her upside down,
trapped inside her own logic.

On an Egg

i

Inside the little dark shop,
she said she would like to buy an egg.
The Sheep was hardly visible
in the shadow
but Alice heard her breathing.
It was the feeling of air
through wool, rustling.

Alice considered an egg
the simplest, the easiest,
the roundest, most delightful
food she could request.
Asking for an egg
was like asking her mother
for her milk. It stood for the beginning
of all life. Unique, and delicious.

The Sheep’s breath
was as round as the egg
itself, an eternal O,
the joined-up circle of destiny
where the universe begins again,
as the Sheepkeeper sweeps the counter
with her woolly arms,
keeping the dark shop clean.

In waves, the shop moved
as if it was in truth a round boat,
a coracle, floating on a
lake, bobbing down to zero,
adding and subtracting
water. A journey that would
only halt when the egg
broke and the yolk escaped.

Yellow and thick
Alice’s hair ran
into the water, over the
warm shawl that the Sheep
was knitting that reminded
Alice of her own mother
rocking and tutting
as she brushed her locks, counting.

One day, it was sure
that her mother would be dead.
Alice would weep for her

unless she had died first
in which case she would hear from her coffin

her mother crying at her graveside.
She would like to whisper
into her mother’s ear right now

and tell her about this strange
dark shop, locked in the pages
of story in which she
would always be together
with her mother the crazy Sheep.
She had more secrets she would not tell,
how it is impossible to buy life
or to really, really kiss someone.

On Her Cup

Years later
she would look back
and see him.

It is his eyes
that she will remember most,
mild, blue

like the eyes
of her father, or the man
she wanted for her father.

And the scene,
she will hear, was set to the song
that uncle sang

with words
she would fail to follow anymore
for they would turn

and wriggle,
escaping into the garden,
flying into being birds

to dodge her.
Yet their meaning
will be clear as ice in a punch-bowl.

Crystal in her ears
like the ting of a spoon
on a tea-cup

stirring stories
round and round
into a twister.

After the tea
will have been consumed
there shall remain patterns of leaves

and the marks
of trees and flowers
and knights

ringing the cup
with a crown of tales,
leaving traces

of parties,
guests, manners
and the friendship

between a child
and a parent,
our strongest

yet our most

difficult

bond.

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