Tag Archives: illness

Illness

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photo credit: Michael de Groot, Pixabay

 

I was evacuated within hours of being born: an un-exploded bomb from WW2 had just been found in the hospital grounds. My mother and I were despatched to the nearby town of Haarlem. After a bike ride my father found us there in an old people’s home.

May last year I posted about the small memorial on the Waalsdorpervlakte in the nearby dunes, how the sound of the bells reached me, sitting inside the caravan. You can read more here. This year there will only be one person ringing that large Bourdon bell tomorrow evening, and the wreath-laying ceremony by the monument on the Dam, Amsterdam will also be scaled down.

Liberation Day, the 5th of May, is celebrated on a large scale only every five years. This year, 75 years on, would have been a major event and a Public Holiday. Flags will be flown, for sure.

 

Moensplein

 

The poem Illness is from my pamphlet A Stolen Hour which was published in March this year by Grey Hen Press. Because my mother’s father owned an electrical shop, we had a small black-and-white television soon after they became available. You can see the house still has that balcony. I like how in the poem the personal and the public are combined.

 

Illness

I’m sure it’s May 1956. Grandfather still runs the electrical shop,
but his wife is in hospital. Next month German tourists
will park their cars in resorts on the Dutch coast.
I’m sure I can smell the smoke from the butcher’s next door,
but I’m ill in bed, can only see pink trees above the balcony.

I’m curled up, a sniffy nose and my ears blocked,
but I can’t turn my face away from the place in the dunes,
a pile of boots and shoes. There must have been butterflies.
These twenty men marched out of town, the execution.

I can see myself at the ink-stained desk, a grainy photo.
Then the photo starts moving, shakily, away from the light.
I’m ill again, but not in my bed in my bedroom, because my mother’s
mother is there in her best dress, lying still. Downstairs
the front room curtains have been drawn.

Chaos

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Photo credit: oho725 on Pixabay

Poetry readings and workshops have been cancelled. People are panic-buying pasta and toilet paper. A few friends have cancelled lunch dates: I have an empty diary.  So, I have started packing boxes for my move later this year, while listening to the radio. My flight is booked on 5th of April and I hope that the borders are still open by then. I can blog over in the Netherlands just as I can here: I have Wifi inside the caravan. If I become ill, it’s easier to self-isolate over there.

Meanwhile, here is a short poem about chaos. It first appeared in The North magazine and was later published in my debut collection Another life. Look after yourself, keep safe and look out for those around you.

 
On the town

In the time it took to buy a birthday card, a special
80th birthday card, they had arrived in a long, black limousine,
jumped out, set fire to the hotel and released wicker
baskets. The flying baskets with wicker wings chopped
tops of trees, trees falling on traffic lights – chaos everywhere
and in the middle of it the small bronze statue.
A smiling woman holding doves covered in bird shit.
The wind howling, sirens crying like the end of the world had come.
And me and that card that had cost me £2.99 and nowhere
to buy stamps, no letter box to post it.

Illness poems

Emma Press have recently put out a call for submissions of poems on Illness. The closing date for your submission (maximum of three poems and up to 65 lines each) is 31 August. To be able to submit you must have bought one printed book or e-book in this calendar year. Emma Press is an active small publisher with a range of anthologies, individual pamphlets and collections. So that one book could pay for several submissions. I will be submitting and have ordered Postcard stories, mini-stories about Belfast.

The editors are looking to “express the experience of illness right across the spectrum” and are “keen to uncover invisible symptoms, as well as unravel the stigma of mental illness”.

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I have Signs and humours: the poetry of medicine on the shelf. This anthology holds 100 poems written over the last 2,000 years and it includes subjects such as autism, infertility, pancreatitis. It was edited by Lavinia Greenlaw who commissioned 20 poets to write on a topic of their choice. The poets were then introduced to medical specialists on that subject (for example, PTSD, glaucoma, malaria, psoriasis). Since 1982 I have had tinnitus in my right ear, so David Harsent’s poem Tinnitus spoke to me; a short extract:

A single note drawn out
beyond imagining,
pitched for a dog or a rat
by a man with a single string
on a busted violin.

There are also poems about how we respond  when faced with a diagnosis. The first few lines from Raymond Carver’s What the Doctor Said:

He said it doesn’t’ look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them

There is Sharon Olds who accompanies her father to a meeting with the doctor who says that nothing more can be done: My father said /‘Thank you.’ And he sat motionless, alone,/with the dignity of a foreign leader.

Around AD 842, when he was paralysed, Po Chü-I wrote a short poem that ends:

All that matters is an active mind, what is the use of feet?
By land one can ride in a carrying chair, by water be rowed in a boat.

The anthology Signs and humours was published in 2007. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between this and the Emma Press Anthology. Will there be poems about eating disorders, body dysmorphia, internet addiction?