Wherever you are at 11am on Monday 1st March, please pause for a moment of reflection and remembrance as we read out the following poem:
We thought of you with love today,
But that is nothing new.
We thought about you yesterday,
And days before that too.
You are forever in our hearts.
This year, the Brain Tumour Research team will observe the minute’s silence virtually via Zoom. If you would like to join us from 10:45-11:15am, please email email@example.com
DIARY OF A SEASON WITH RACHMANINOFF
I’m in prison!
But there are no bars, there is no jailer,
I’m marooned here by the deathbed,
Living minute by minute.
His breathing now becoming laboured.
Rachmaninoff is playing on the bedroom radio.
I’m driving home from hospital,
The death sentence cruelly pronounced.
Such an unforgivable lack of empathy!
In tears I try to imagine being a widow.
Mustn’t cry in front of the children though!
Rachmaninoff is playing on the car radio.
November 12th 1998
I’m standing outside the hospice room,
the one where he died, the one
with blood-red roses outside the window.
I hear my son talking to his father,
Listing all the occasions he’ll miss.
Rachmaninoff is drifting up from the kitchen.
November 20th 1998
I’m following the coffin,
a single red rose in one hand,
my son’s quivering fingers in the other.
This wasn’t the plan!
This cold-hearted death betrayed us!
Rachmaninoff is playing on the church organ
Time creeps forward like a snail.
Imperceptibly grief begins to wane.
For three long years my mind was elsewhere,
But suddenly ……. I’m back in my body again!
Feet firmly on the ground.
Triumph! I’ve survived!
P.S. Maybe it’s time to start playing Rachmaninoff again?
She says “My husband died from a brain tumour (grade 4 glioblastoma) and I have written a lot of poems on the subject. I’m attaching the one from my latest publication ‘Where Flora Sings’.
It’s just a precaution, I’m told. The chances are small –
one in a hundred, say – that there’s anything there.
It’s routine these days to be scanned,
if your hearing’s bad in one ear.
I’m flattered to think my case needs investigation,
intrigued by the kind of precautions I have to take.
The machine they use is magnetic;
its powerful field can weaponise paperclips,
suck trolleys across the floor,
even rip out metal pieces from your eye.
Since anything metal’s taboo, I’ve had to leave at home
my watch, my credit cards and keys.
Personal items, effects, not having them feels strange.
They’re little things, but they anchor me to the world –
no wonder I’m lost without them. Sitting waiting my turn,
feeling weightless and underdressed,
I wonder if that’s what it means to become a patient:
having things taken away, losing control of your life,
the prospect of having your whole identity shrunk
to a name on a wristband – even a mortuary tag.
Pure melodrama! Things aren’t nearly that bad.
A nurse with a clip-board brings me some relief.
Signing a form to say I’ve no metal foreign bodies in my eyes,
no cochlear implant, metal plate or dentures,
no permanent braces or embedded shrapnel,
it’s hard to believe there’s anything wrong at all.
The ward is mixed
like the women’s college next door.
Male or female, it doesn’t matter here;
we’re treated simply as patients,
our names indiscriminately placed
on the neurosurgeons’ lists.
Sex is something for filling in
on forms, like religion.
When we’re conscious, if at all,
it’s of the literal weakness of our flesh.
The man in the opposite bed,
here for an operation on his neck,
flirts with the female staff in a desultory way –
it’s de rigueur for him, though his heart isn’t in it.
When a nurse comes to take my ‘obs’,
it’s enough to know they are normal.
I smile when she jokes that my blood pressure
must have been raised by the pretty night nurse,
but only because I’m relieved
that the reading they took before was an aberration.
I need their reassurance that I’m well;
my aim, like theirs, is to get me out of here.
A coward, I keep running through my head
the risks I’ve survived and might not:
anaesthetic, infection, stroke –
things that make death a one-per-cent solution.
My family’s visits help anchor me
in the real world. In between them,
I drift in an archipelago of sense:
meals arrive at unaccustomed times;
patients are admitted and discharged;
shifts change. It’s a world within a world,
with none of the cosiness that might imply.
At night, I get up in the dim, subaqueous light
and shuffle through the ward.
The chill air blowing in through an open window
reminds me of being a student here,
its physical discomforts and privations:
eight weeks at a time spent shivering in cold rooms,
the river mists, the smell of damp stone.
Thirty years ago, I lay in a girlfriend’s room
in the college next door and listened to
the deep sighs being exhaled
from part of the hospital plant –
the heating or laundry perhaps,
we never discovered its source.
We called it ‘the sleeping giant’, a comforting sound.
I listen for it now without success.
The therapy is going to sort my head out,
though the treatment I’m having isn’t a talking cure.
The couch I lie on belongs to a machine.
My head’s been fixed so tight I feel I’m part of it,
screwed in like a component. It’s a kind of execution,
the cobalt sources’ concentrated fire –
over two hundred gamma rays –
aimed at a bit of me they’re trying to kill.
This morning – sedated, scanned –
I waited while they plotted my treatment plan,
doing little, ordinary things – reading the paper,
chatting to my wife – as if it were normal to wear
a metal frame screwed to my skull.
‘Like Hannibal Lecter,’ I joked, when they put it on.
A woman’s voice asks me through headphones
if I’m all right. Would I like music?
She puts on a violin concerto, one by Bach:
a good choice, I think – mathematical and precise –
for something as carefully judged
as the dose I’m about to experience –
if ‘experience’ is right, given there’s nothing to feel
from this ‘non-invasive’ treatment.
I like the Bach, but it’s hard to concentrate.
My mind wanders off. I worry about side-effects.
I ought to focus instead, like the rays themselves,
on the tumour they’re trying to kill.
After, I feel self-conscious on the train.
The sticking plasters they’ve put where they fixed the frame
make me look dehorned, my metamorphosis
something only a myth could explain.
Bios And Links
Margaret has been s/listed for several poetry prizes and won the Hedgehog Press collection competition 2020. She has two poetry collections, a memoir in Haibun form (May 20.) Published online and in print, most recently: Hedgehog Press, The Blue Nib, Impspired, & forthcoming in Sarasvati and Dreich. New pamphlet ‘Earth Magicke’ out with Impspired Press May 2021.
Instagram : meggiepoet
Facebook Author Page: Facebook.com/margaretbrowningroyall
was interviewed by The Wombwell Rainbow in April last year. His poems have appeared widely, in magazines and online, and he has published two pamphlets: The War with Hannibal (Poetry Salzburg, 2019) and The 3-D Clock (Dempsey & Windle, 2020). Some time ago he developed an acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous brain tumour on the hearing and balance nerve. After a period of ‘wait and see’, he had an unsuccessful operation to remove it, which had to be halted because of the risk of damaging the facial nerve. Following successful treatment by Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery, he is now clear.”-Margaret Royall