Sarah Penwarden: ‘Prinsengracht 263’ and ‘The Change’

Prinsengracht 263

With a dream of being a famous writer
she began her Tales from the Secret Annex
when hiding behind a bookcase;
it was her diaries that glowed.

She could see the sky from
the attic window and
wanted to go outside with Peter—
to play, to laugh.

There’s no-one here for me,
she had said to a friend
who discovered her
at Belsen.

Now, in her city
we lie on white sheets
in an attic room above
skeletal trees hung with lights

while across the canal,
strangers eat, drink and
watch on their screens:
Trump’s inauguration, the oath of office.

A candle in a window in
lights flare
around the world.

Sarah Penwarden


The Change

Let’s reverse to that
eleven year old who
did not as yet feel her body
or know the self she would become;
breezy and bright, the threshold came
and she was twelve.
Crushing headaches, light
sensitivity, unworthiness;
she did not know it was all hormones
or that she would lose that girl
from the 70s, walking the sunny streets
of her hometown in
shorts with bias binding,
orange t-shirt, her nose pink
and leathery in the sun.

Four decades pass;
she and the world have grown
complex and shaky with trauma.
And there are silences:
an unused womb, the white spaces.
Menopause is
the other end of puberty, he said.
Each day she feels her body’s
pained outline while her heart
beats fast, walls contract.
Again she becomes
elemental, again
changing form, on the way
to becoming
someone else.

Sarah Penwarden

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