David Punter


Little Effie’s Piece of String



It started with a three-inch-long piece

she found in the garden; we caught her

staring at it, mesmerised. Life went on

(of course) but we saw that soon she

had found more, and -  mysteriously -

had knotted them together.

We didn’t know she could do knots.


Then there was the mouse.

We were used to mice indoors

(you have to be, with two cats),

always dead, sometime whole, sometimes

gutted, the head some distance from

the tiny grey body, still twitching -

But this one was different.


It was whole, but something had sunk

almost invisibly into its neck.

It wasn’t the last. We didn’t know much

about string obsessions, but we looked up

Hilaire Belloc and warned little Effie

about the awful fate of Henry King.

But she wasn’t chewing. We thought.


Enough with the mice, we said,

and searched little Effie’s bedroom

silently while she was asleep,

snoring lightly, innocently.

The piece of string was elegantly

knotted, and by now about three feet

long; no longer suitable for mice.


And then we only had one cat;

we were sad, and especially so when we

discovered the corpse. ‘Daddy’, she asked

one breakfast-time, in her delicate

lisping way, ‘How do you do the gavotte?’

We were not sure that was what she meant;

but maybe she was just stringing us along.


The whole poem hinges on the confusion at the end in a small girl's mind between 'gavotte' and 'garotte'. I hope the poem is pleasingly sinister! I have always loved Hilaire Belloc's cautionary tales - maybe this is an updated version.

Little Effie’s Piece of String

image cfr.org