(((five weeks of illness and hospitalisation)))

(this poem was first printed in Sick Leave Journal in June 2019)


1.

i tell myself

this is a tentative burial

almost like those paranoid victorians

who built their coffins with escape hatches





and channels large enough to deliver

sausages and leather bibles –

(the kind of trinkets that might comfort

a sleeping man mistaken for a corpse)





and attached brass bells to buried limbs,

making sure that if a body fell awake –

there’s been a terrible mistake!

the whole town would be woken by its song





and when i think about it like this

it almost seems adventurous

to fossick myself away, humming

illness is a deviation from the social contract





to hand the nurse my braids, my bootstraps –

greet my roommates, draw the covers tight –

and fantasise

about my exhumation





2.

each day we stuff our puff-feet into shoes,

and head downstairs to ex0rcise,

and swallow cigarettes,

and speak to the manager





(sir, why

  1. is this spring air / swollen and malicious
  2. is the smell of meat / a personal insult
  3. do I not yet /  function / as advertised)




and somehow each of us will acquire a pedometer –

and somehow one of us will grin and explode gently –





i’m in pain! i’m your greyhound!

no, not sleek – not swift –

but – one of them dead ones –

accidentally shot by the starting gun!





3.

one day, outside the hospital,

the line of visitors snakes round the block!

they bring files and fish oil tablets baked into sponge cakes

and kitchen shears, to cut ties with





one day, inside the hospital,

the nurse rigs up the machine —

this won’t hurt – you’ll barely feel –

the elastic band PINGing against your mind’s eye





the machine beams messages to the little woman

trapped in the crawl-space between my skull and my vertebrae –

she is hauling herself forward elbow by elbow –

she – deserves – a raise –





4.

in my sleep, i unfurl my limbs

back and forth in time like feelers –

tearing clean through my coffin

(all that state-supplied cotton!)





 :–) and /// when /// i /// rise :–)





i take lean strides in long skirts

wielding an elegance, a cleanliness

to cut through all this mess –

i bleach bedsores, i front parades





miss very important patient

miss skilled service user

miss known absconder –

good at untangling silk knots





5.

before i leave, the doctor asks to keep

my fat heart – his new panic button

my hot mouth – a neat paperweight

and snuffs the incense in my tomb





is this what happens? i ring the bell,

and they return me to my teenage bedroom

where i sift through litter and old love notes

like a nurse inspecting a stranger’s wound –





(this won’t hurt –

you’ll barely feel –)

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