A poem to celebrate National Poetry Day, Libraries Week and 88 year olds everywhere

I wrote this poem, which was published in MsLexia magazine, after seeing a news clip about an 88 year old lady. She had recently learned to read and had therefore discovered a whole new world of stories. You can see the news report by clicking on the link under the poem. 

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, all she could do

was drift her hands along each silent spine

or turn hieroglyph pages like a visitor

lost in the streets of a foreign land,

her forehead a frown of lines –

a message of bewilderment she hoped

others could not read.


Then, like whispers, or baby footsteps,

or leaves dropping like scraps of tissue

kissed by an infinitesimal breeze,

shapes on pages birthed sounds on her lips -

each day a new one, a tiny gift –

and in her mind, dragons, heroines,

castles, pirates, the sighs of reunited lovers. 

Watch the news clip - have a tissue handy


  1. Oh my goodness that is beautiful!

    1. Thanks so much, and thanks too for reading, Ruth!

  2. I didn't need a tissue, but I did smile very wide. I can't imagine not being able to read, I've done it since I was three.
    I hope more old people who can't read are encouraged to learn.

    1. Wouldn't that be great? I wonder if there are schemes to encourage this. It's the kind of thing I could volunteer for. I will look into it.

  3. I welled up. Beautiful and moving as the first time I read it.

    1. Thanks, pal. Yes, I must remember to write some new ones and post those!

  4. I often think of people who have recently left school and are functionally illiterate.
    But can't begin to imagine going thru all those decades with half of my life missing.
    What a magnificent and satisfying achievement. And your poem brings it to life.

    1. Thanks, Diana. I agree with you and wonder how the lady managed all those years. It doesn't sound as though she tried to hide it - I've heard stories of folks who just covered it up for years, which is so sad.

  5. Love this. Your poem does beautiful justice to an already moving story. x


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