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Front-Line Driver
by Stephen Howarth

She’s my little sister. I mean, my real little sister:
not someone called sister through a fashion sense,
nor someone called sister through a sense of solidarity
in politics – no, she’s my actual little sister,

offspring of the same two parents;
and one of three girls, plus me the only boy,
and her the youngest of us all. Once
as a small girl, lurking behind the sofa, she overheard

our mother talking with a friend about
the meaning of her name: “Gracious gift of Jehovah,”
which she misunderstood as craziest gift
of Jehovah. I don’t think it affected her much,

although she’s definitely daft: she likes soccer, for a start,
and it’s hard to get dafter than that.
But she’s wise too, and kind, and has hinted that
should she predecease me, she might leave me

some of the family portraits she owns, all
in the female line. I like them very much, and
they should go to another good home in time;
but I hope they stay with her for many years to come.

She’s skillful too: she owns and sometimes plays the family piano
on which she and our other sisters learned; and she drives.
Well, yes — so do many people, maybe most. But she drives
an ambulance. She’s a Covid-19 front-line warrior.

These days, anyone she carries might have the virus,
and she’s in a vulnerable age group. Should have retired
several years ago, until the government changed the rules;
so, she’s been working right through the crisis.

When we heard she might have caught it herself, then
all of us affected, connected by family or friendly links
were deeply scared for her. Tests and isolation followed
until with great relief, we learned that she was clear.

Little Sister of the Courageous Caring Order:
You’ll probably laugh to know I’ve written this for you.
But your daftness is forgiven, your skills are respected,
and your devotion to your patients is admired.

Maybe, until now, we as a society never fully understood
our deep dependence on Front-Line Warriors
such as you. And I’d like to add that I’m glad you still own
the portraits. We should get one done of you.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The poem is pretty much self-explanatory. My sister was surprised, and pleased, that I chose to try and honour her like this. From a clue within it, you can work out her name if you wish, but we both preferred that she should remain anonymous, and that the poem should stand as a universal tribute as well as a personal one. For the same reason, the photo of the ambulance at her place of work is a generic one.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Howarth has been an independent professional author of history all his working life. He served in the Royal Naval Reserves both on the lower deck and as an officer and wrote the official centenary history of the RNR – for which he was appointed an honorary Commander by HM the Queen. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Royal Geographical Society, and a Life Member of the US Naval Institute and The 1805 Club. He earned a Master’s degree (with Distinction) in creative writing at Nottingham Trent University.