Saturday, May 2, 2009

Two Deaths In One Night

Writing about hospitals a few blogs back reminded me of the impact that a Janet Charman poem had when I first read it. For a spell in my student days I had a nurse girl-friend. The callous way she spoke about her patients and sometimes their deaths shocked me. I realise now it was a defence mechanism. Charmin’s poem had the same feeling. The intensity of her experience hammered at me from the page. The contrast between the apparent indifference at dealing with the corpses and the sexuality at the rugby party is striking. As well there is the surprise of the spare, urgent presentation, rules of punctuation and poetic form completely overturned – a captivating poem.


in each side room
a body
dropped in the sheets
after long pain
and a look of tense
between breath

we were going to a rugby party
after work
that night

how we washed their bodies

i took down the cotside
and cut away
the drip
old dressings
and the oxygen mask

Jean said
i'll wash
you hold

i held
the dull blank weight
against warm me
his unknown soldier chin
propped up finally
and we found a bit of carnation
to stick between
his tied together hands

this was just
the first one
across the hall
we started on the other

how we washed his body
had to laugh
in the low light of

sipping tea
waiting for the orderlies
to load their long white parcels away
on cold trolleys

All that shit
I don't know how you girls can
Do it
says the lock forward
brushing his finger into what he hopes is my breast

Come down the beach with us –
we went
two deaths in one night

Janet Charman 2 Deaths in I Night p14

No comments:

Post a Comment