The Phoenix

Ruth Padel

... her once-red head locked
In a tank of steam,
        Her face foxing down into nothing
Saying ‘All my beauty’s gone,’
Holding on

To your wrist, your bare arm,
Through a shock hedge of wiring, spliced
        Every which way to intestines
And rationing herself to Seven Up
(Plus morphine) on the rocks.

So cold, under the striplight
Night after night
        Through all the carry-ons:
The bubble-cloud of rosaries,
The small-hours foraging for ice

In the hospital kitchen. But so proud
Of this cuckoo she
        Brought into the world,
As you sang with her, day after glary day,
All the words of all the Jim Reeves songs

Or any you rustled up between you,
Anything anyone there could sing about –
        ‘Tipperary’, ‘Star of the Sea’ –
To ease that inward
Journey, launch her out.