Sunday, January 8, 2012

Far away time

In that far, far away time

there were no trauma counsellors.

So when the woman drowned on the beach, we had to deal with it as best we could.

It wasn't a dramatic drowning;

she appeared to have fallen forward

and gone on breathing water

until the end.

Her companions hastened

to reassure us, or themselves:

she was just out of hospital,

heart trouble, had been filled

with delight at the day's outing,

drowning could well have been

her favoured choice of death.

I don't know how my brother

received this bromide. After all,

he was the one who brought her in,

laid her face down on the stones,

turned her head to the left

and knelt beside her

unavailingly pushing down

on her rigid torso,

listening for the first gasp of breath.

I remember standing beside her

but not her body

being moved from the beach,

nor our walk up the hill to lunch,

nor even whether we told our mother.

But I do recall waking in the night

to my sister's silent sleeping

and having to stand by her bed

until I could actually hear her gentle

in and out breath.

I do not know how my brother

coped with his futile contact

with dead flesh.

We never talked about it again,

didn't go in for “do you remember

the time when the woman drowned?”,

any more than we discussed our

shared distress at the cramped

quarters given to the big cats

at the visiting circus.

Emotions were not to be displayed.

For all that, a few years later

when I first encountered Shakespeare's

Mutability sonnets, I responded totally:

his fear that time would come

and take his love away; the fragility

of “summer's honey breath”.

I felt them on my pulse.

Would counseling have smoothed

such awareness away so

I would no longer have acknowledged

that life was transient, that death

could come unbidden even

while I was swimming in

a calm sea, under a summer sky.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


I have been enduring an eclipse,

a brown murkiness across my garden

contaminating trees and flowers.

I am not a primitive, ready

to forebode the future

but it's been hard

not to imagine disasters,

misaligned stars misdirecting

their energies towards the earth.

I know it's atavistic

but it's out of my control.

I'm so glad to welcome back

a brightness of sky and feel

the load I have been carrying

grow lighter and lighter.

The eclipse has been caused by the district nurses' reaction to my acquiring a visible pain. As they have not been able to do anything about my rolling ankles or my compressed stomach they have mostly ignored these problems, but now I am sporting an ulcer on my left bum, at least 3cm deep at its worst and nearly 3cm across.

The nurses threw all of their big guns into this problem, bringing in my doctor and wound specialist, warning me about septicemia, wondering how I would manage the Christmas / New Year break. Until I worked out that their reaction was so extraordinary only because they could actually see this particular pain I allowed myself to be sucked into their panic. Even though I still refused to lie for 6 months to prevent the ulcer deteriorating, I began to feel I might have to give in and take the dreaded pain killers.

Now, over the last 10 years I have continued to choose clarity over comfort with good effect - 4 poetry books and 1 autobiographical account; I would set myself 4 days a year, New Year's Day, my birthday in March, Paul's in July and the anniversary of his death in October. On those days I would make a decision about pain which would then hold until the next date came along. The nurses almost got me to thinking I would have to make a decision once a month and that I would, in effect, lose my clarity of mind, which is all that I have left: my response to the garden, music, friends and the stories they bring. It just didn't seem worth carrying on if I were to live in a fog with only brief spells of lucidity.

But I have realised now what has been going on, realised that the nurses reacted the way nurses do. A doctor friend tells me they sing only one tune and I had been hearing it every day for a couple of months. Now I am free to ignore their harassments, to say “No” to antibiotics, hospitalisation, bed rest, painkillers, or any other interference to how I want to spend my days. I can use my yoga / meditation techniques of shifting my awareness of the pain; the brain can only process one at a time anyway and I have a great variety. There are parts of the day where the pain is excruciating, but they are brief and I can anticipate them. By altering how I am positioned on the wheelchair, I can have less weight on the wound, and gives me referred pain down the thigh, which my mind knows is perfectly alright. Anyway, I have just as much pain on the right bum, where the skin is not yet broken. As the poem says, the sky is brighter and the load is lighter.