Staying with the Grey Sisters at Age 3¼

In the inchoate umber of a May
cot, up against water

piping heat, autumn
chills the silence of her daddy’s

squeeze. Sirens box
the night like absent love

that a child paints
as tree. Red leaves

scatter at its base. Who can
ease the crying days?

When she asks, a lesson is
denied. A coif covers

power as it switches and
she stands up in bed –

a mimic of containment – while
a small fly butts

a pane that’s specked with strikes.
Floor’s polish shrills

with sin and a visit disallowed.
Everywhere is the drear beige

of things she cannot be
as she reaches for it all.

Anne Elvey

Listen to Anne reading ‘Staying with the Grey Sisters at Age 3¼’ (1:23).


Anne Elvey lives on BoonWurrung Country in Victoria and acknowledges elders past, present and emerging. She is author of On arrivals of breath (2019), White on White (2018) and Kin (2014) and co-author of Intatto (2017). She is editor of hope for whole: poets speak up to Adani (2018).

Note: The ‘Grey Sisters’ refers both to the Family Care Sisters and the Institution they ran in Melbourne to care for children for short periods to give mothers a rest, or if a mother had no one to care for her children during the birth of a sibling.

© text and audio 2020