St Mary Graces

I give her a name, Nell, the lost belltower
reverberating again. I pick an age
from the range suggested: let her be thirty-one,
with a man, four children
living. I invent her a profession:
baker. I give her a dry humour,
a brisk scorn for her mother, a crimson
ribbon in her hair, which is oak-brown,
massive against her neck, her eyes brown,
her hands padded and practical. I offer her
what little I can, being so ignorant
and she so much diminished, a scattering
of ribs and knuckles over a narrow space
hollowed between her neighbours;
and a skull
lustrous, the stain
of copper that leached down to her, through the flooring,
foundations, the soil above her, her winding-sheet,
five centuries after her death, when they were stamping
kings and queens onto farthings;
her even teeth
jade-green, fit for a party or a plague.
The Royal Mint was built in the early nineteenth century on the site of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces; which in turn was built over a fourteenth-century ‘catastrophe cemetery,’ a mass grave for plague victims.