The Sutherland Sisters

Sutherland Sisters
The Sutherland Sisters, about 1890

Naomi growled a rich bass,
Grace owned a tenor's range,
while the other five held
the soprano and contralto lines.

But not for their vocals, flexible
and honeyed as they were,
did P.T. Barnum sign them up,
what he wanted came in the form

of their luxuriant locks,
floor-length manes to be unpinned
with a hint of of what the butler saw as they
gave voice to parlour songs and hymns.

Sky high sales of a hair tonic
bearing their name bought them a mansion
with running hot and cold, in an age
when water seldom ran.

Here started the practice of strange acts,
jewelled pets were given obituaries, a dead husband
kept in a glass coffin until the stench grew too much.
Daughters of a turkey farmer,

they blew the lot, falling like skittles
when penury knocked, though Grace
lingered on to ninety-two, to be buried
in a pauper's grave.

Today remembered in sepia
they pose, the girl band of their day,
a group of wayward Rapunzels who let
fame and fortune go to their heads.

Stephen Bone

If you have any thoughts on this poem or on these remarkable sisters, Stephen Bone would be pleased to hear them.

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