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The Woman Behind the Glass

Bryony Doran discusses the story behind the cover picture of Home Front.

Who is the woman behind the glass? What strange and elegant fingers she has… the hands of a musician? Why is she faceless?

This is the cover of the poetry anthology, Home Front, which features full-length collections by four women, myself included. We, and our poetry, all have one thing in common: we are all mothers or wives of men who served in Afghanistan or Iraq, and who wrote poetry about this experience.

When I first saw this book cover I thought, Yes. That is exactly how it was. For seven months I lived my life as if there was a pane of glass between myself and the rest of the world. Although I did share what feelings I had with those close to me, for the most part I didn’t really feel anything. I had closed down emotionally because that was the only way I could get through and still be strong for my son. I remember one day – I think I must have been losing my mind – when I started telling strangers on a train, travelling from Newcastle to Sheffield, that my son was in Afghanistan. I wanted to see the shock on their faces. To know that it was real – that what I was living wasn’t a myth.

I lived in daily fear of a knock on the door and yet I was also afraid to go out or go away in case they came I was not in. Later, after my son had returned safely, I read a book by David Grossman, The End of the Land, that my friend and fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett had lent me. In the book, a mother whose son is fighting on the front sets out on a sort of pilgrimage in Israel, to be away if they should come to her door, and by doing so believes that news of her son’s death can never arrive, and that her son’s death could therefore never happen. I understood her motives completely but was not brave enough to do the same.

Is the woman behind the glass on the cover crying out for help? Or is she trying to feel her way tentatively through the glass to experience the pain of the world? At first I thought the glass was frosted, but now I imagine it is clear glass that was painted over to purposefully obscure it, as they did in World War Two.

Why is she faceless and obscured? Does she choose to be so – perhaps so that people cannot see the pain etched on her face? Or is she faceless because her story goes untold?

Well, the story has now been told. The poems in Home Front examine so many emotions: remembering these grown men as children, the fear of injury, imagining how their lives will be if – if – they return home. And if they return and are whole, what will they have seen that they can never un-see?

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