Private Wing in July
Night with its epileptic dreams
Is over, and for once there seems
To be some flavour in the day.
Outside my room – my territory
Where the seasons do not enter –
The dawn chorus of the nurses (banter
About the night and how it went)
Seems to give off a kind of scent.
Consultants come round early here.
Out-of-doors must be getting near.
And here they are, dressed for their parts
In laundered cotton poplin shirts.
Doors open for them. They disperse,
Each to a room, trailing a nurse.
They smell of grass where there is none
And distant rivers in the sun,
Of picnics and al fresco sin.
Summer is icumen in.
My window at the hospital
Overlooks the car-park, full
As a market at this time of day
With patients who have got away:
Spouses being bundled home.
Later the visitors will come,
To see the Sabine women left
Behind unwanted, faces daft
As daisies peering out at life.
I view the matter as a wife
For now a car drives in and takes
Its place, as every day for weeks,
Silver powdered down to pearl
By summer lanes and plants that hurl
Their seeds at every passer-by.
A man is getting out whom I
Stood beside thirty years ago
And heard agreeing to be true
In sickness and in health. He is
The man who said ‘I will.’ And has.
I was born tongue-tied. Ages later
Here comes once more the suffocator
That I cannot recall but must
Have been what paralysed me most
Of all the things I could not do.
My speech is back in prison now.
Whatever silenced me when young
Has put a thimble on my tongue.
The noise in the recovery room
Was half footfall and half hum
Like a well-mannered gallery
Of pictures that I could not see.
And then a name disrupted it:
The hated name of childhood: Pat,
A name I had not answered to
For fifty years and would not now.
Another voice began to talk:
Pat. And still I did not speak.
My husband waited in my room
And in the end they sent for him
After an hour or two of this.
I heard Patricia. And said ‘Yes?’
Back home. Sixty years dead my mother
Is chattering downstairs. My father
Is in the kitchen making tea
As if this domesticity
Would prove that he had never been
A child-abuser or profane,
Both of them very idle fears.
He has been dead thirty-five years.
They came in on the rising tide
To meet their daughter who had died.
That is what they must have done
And very soon they will have gone
Away, silently and forgiving.
This is my house. Where I am living.
I am on my own. My husband
Is away (and I am housebound)
Seeing his mother, ninety-five.
He found her less dead than alive,
Gardening, before the sun
Got warmer than the air and when
The grass still smelled of night and fear.
She was preparing for New Year,
Planting early bulbs that looked
Scaly, mauve and undercooked.
She has not buried them in vain.
And some sick people rise again.
Too Deep for Tears
After two illnesses last year
I find I cannot shed a tear
At Little Women in the spring.
The book provided everything
That made grown men a century
Ago wring out their beards. Today
The film holds nothing back. We have
Gentle dying words, a grave,
A pet canary in its shroud,
A battered much-loved doll, a crowd
Of people running into other
People’s arms, a song, a father
In some place where the fighting is,
Christmas snow and families.
I have just left hospital.
This outing signals my recall
To normal life and I am glad
(Having expected to be dead),
So are my family, for me,
Yet they weep unrestrainedly
And I cannot. I have known illness
Like a truth in all its fullness.
Things just kept happening and I
Allowed them to. Drips standing by,
Needles approaching, every spasm,
I welcomed them as realism.
Every procedure was a fact.
No need to fantasise or act.
A year of actuality
Has almost dehydrated me.