Monday, September 15, 2008

This evening ...

This evening I sat for about 90 minutes holding the cold hand of an old woman who will most likely die sometime tonight.

We - M who is the patient, and me - were in a mixed sex ward in Homerton Hospital. There is (apparently) no space in the ward for patients who are on the verge of death to be taken - no side room. Instead we had to make do by drawing the curtains around the bed. Beyond the curtains the sounds of everyday hospital life continued as I watched M fight for each breath: visitors talking loudly to friends and relatives; nurses talking loudly - sometimes in English - to each other as they dished out the evening drugs; orderlies banging beds and equipment from here to there; assistants coming round with foul-smelling food ...

M is a proud woman; at some point last night she retied her hair into a bun - an attempt, I assume, to give herself some dignity. She is also a strongly opinionated and quick-tempered woman; I was at her bedside because she is a neighbour I've been helping to look after - she fell out badly with her family, her children, a long time ago and even last night was adamant that they should not be told of her plight: "not until my last fucking breath" in her words.

I would love to say the doctors have been wonderful, but as far as I can tell the only doctors that have seen her are the doctors who admitted her last Friday afternoon, and a doctor doing the rounds this morning who gave her a strong sedative. I would love to say the nurses have been wonderful - and I think that if they had the time, they would be wonderful - but there's only a complement of seven of them on a ward that holds (I think) 18 patients; all the beds were occupied, by the way, and as I was holding M's icy hand I watched as one patient was harried out of her bed (to be transferred elsewhere) and another hustled into the spare slot next to us.

I chatted to the patient across from M as I was leaving. She told me that M had been crying all night: "just kill me now ... please kill me". M has a great fear of death, of the pain of the dying act. I wondered as I was walking home whether the sedative had been to ease her pain, or to ease her fear, or to bring a little peace to the ward. I wondered why they had chosen not to increase the dose just a little ... is M still suffering, but just no longer able to voice her terrors?

When I left, M's breathing was heading towards apnoea - several breaths followed by a long pause. I am no doctor, but I hope that is a sign that her life can be measured in hours rather than days; the thought of being in M's state for days - weeks - in that place ... no, that is not a humane thought.

This is not a humane post ...

Edit: serendipity strikes - we got the phone call from the hospital five minutes after I pressed the 'post' button. Rest in peace, Maisie! You're with your Dad now, and the pain's all gone.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

He Preaches Amid the Vehicles

Snowdrop 11.1: He Preaches Amid the Vehicles

"I will praise You, my Lord, as these horseless carts praise You; I will bellow words about Your marvellous works! I will be glad and rejoice in You: I will sing hymns to Your name, my commander - my liege ... As my enemies turn their backs on Your morning, they fall and perish in Your presence. For You have relieved my plight and my mind; judgment

"has come! You have reviled the heathens, You have destroyed the wicked, You have halted their fornicators for ever and good. I say to my enemies: your destructions are surrendered; your everlasting night is destroyed; your memorial moon perishes with your flesh! But my Lord shall endure for ever: He has prepared His throne for judgment - and He shall judge the world in righteousness, He shall minister judgment to the ranks in angelic garments! The Lord will also be

"a refuge for the non-combatants, a redoubt in times of trouble. And they that know my Lord's name will put their trust in Him: for You, my God, have not forsaken those who march for You. Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Hythe: declare among the people His doings! When He orders us to charge, He remembers us: He does not forget the fervour of His humblest trooper. Have mercy upon

"me, my Lord; consider the troubles which I suffered, the sneers of those that hated me: it was You that lifted me up from the gates of death, so that I may demonstrate and praise in the streets of Hythe - I will rejoice in Your salvation! The heathen are struck down in the ditches they made: by the mists in which they hid are their own lies taken. The Lord is known

"by the judgments he executes: the wicked are snared by the skyrods and wires that pucker this Heaven! The wicked shall be ploughed over like these Levels, and all the nations that forget God shall become sheepdung! Arise, my Lord; let not idle men prevail: let the heathens be judged in Your sight - put them in fear, my Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be men!"

Friday, September 12, 2008


Snowdrop 10.6: Mysteries

"My Lord! A heroine in tears - what fuss
is this, my child? These dew-buds on your cheeks
should signal joy, relief, release from night -
I saw you strike the Tallyman's own pot;
I watched as mists were wrenched apart, unwrapped
like muscle teased from bones - confusion reigns
in Purgat'ry and sunlight welcomes us
to Christ's immense, unmeasured grace!
Have you been hurt? An injury perhaps?"

"How long have I been gone from home? I know
there was a night of terror: madness claimed
my heart and guts, my mind - I was ashamed
and angry ... visions came to me although
I fought them hard. I killed a man? No - no!
A nightmare, nothing more! But you were there,
I think - you told me things, you let me share
your food ... how long have I been gone from home?"
"Now there's a question set to stretch the brains
of naturalists and scholars! Who can tell
how time can pass in timeless realms? And yet
it cannot be denied that sequences occurred:
each act begat another act, each moment built
upon the last - a parody of time, maybe?
I felt each breath to be my last and still
I breathed again, cessation never came -
a memory of life, I thought, a scrap
of old routine retained to keep me sane
beyond the binding weight of grave and corpse.

"Another question comes to me, a dog
that whines and digs for bones. This place does look
- familiar; this hill that curls the land
is surely Lympne - yes, look! I see the rocks
of Stutfall Tower buried deep in turf.
And there! That steeple - Burmarsh church, I'm sure,
and northwards sits the town of Hythe ... my house ..."

"I broke a window, climbed inside. I found -
a different place; fresh paint, new furnishings
and gadgets - phones so small - a thin TV -
computers, fabrics, shoes that bounce and bound -
so soft to wear. I do not know these things!
It's like the future's come to finish me!"
"You speak in English, yet the lexicon
you choose is foreign - gadgets? Puters? Phones?
Such vexing words - are these angelic tools?
Although your eyes show pain and fear - as if
these miracles have changed while you were gone
from here, and how can things be changed if not
by time itself? Ahh ... now I see the need
for tears and grief - how long have we been trapped
by mists and moons? It seemed an age to me
but thinking back - a month, perhaps, of new
awakenings, each colder than the last -
we must investigate this mystery!
The task will clear away confusion, steer
our feet towards redemption, yes? We'll walk
to Hythe, my friend, and question all we see!"

The Slumbering Marsh

Snowdrop 10.5: The Slumbering Marsh

Where soil and mud
mix, a toad -
each breath a month
of suspensions.

The water's own wolf
waits in the reeds,
teeth primed to spike
cold sticklebacks.

A regiment of sabres
hold steady in trenches,
their wintry green
a stubble of profits.

A swan stabs
her carrot beak
deep in the slime,
harvesting mulm.

A scythe of wing,
white, culling gusts -
discordant chorus:
angelic gulls.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A New World

Snowdrop 10.4: A New World

"This miracle scares me! I thought we were free
for Heaven's embrace when the sun blushed the trees
to gold; such delight took my head to my heels -
I choked on my tears! But this world is unreal:
these wires on poles set to trawl through the air
are God's handiwork? Why would He want to snare
the winds? Or perhaps they are soul-nets, a skein
to rescue folks caught by the Tallyman's bean ..."

"It was not God who rescued us
old friend: we watched her thrust her knife
and slice the mage's pot in two!
A girl, no less, and there was me
who said she'd make a sacrifice
to keep the Tallyman appeased
for many nights - such fools we are!"
"Now don't you be blaming yourself, mistress May;
just thank the good Lord that we've witnessed this day!"

"Oh don't you fear - I have the scabs
upon my knees as evidence
of how I praised sweet Jesus Christ
as sunlight spread across my face!
Such joy to feel a prick of heat
not born of flame embroider skin
with life! So long I've been a corpse,
a ghost, a wraith, a monster caught
in mists - look up above: no moon!
That girl has resurrected us!"
"To what? And to where? Though my eyes see the world
my mind is confused - like the Marsh has unfurled
and flattened itself into shapes that confound
my memories. Where do I stand on this ground?"

"You're right, old man; this place has changed.
what once was green has been despoiled -
the pastures ploughed, the sheep enclosed.
These wires strung on poles - they sing
a mournful ditty: ditches filled
to make great fields, their hedges grubbed
from God's soft earth. And look! This road
is grey and hard, too harsh to let
a donkey trot along it - what
has happened here? Almighty God ...
you hear that roar? A cart on wheels
as round as I am tall - it moves
across that field alone, no horse
to haul its weight: it burns, I'm sure!
You see the twists of smoke - and yet
a man is sat upon it: run!
It turns towards us, hunts us: hide!"