The kind nervous one
sealed into his protective suit
gives you the poisoned cup,
your dose measured in curies.
You put on your old nightshirt
in the room where everything you bring
must be destroyed.
Parts of your body have already been incinerated.
No-one may touch you.
Outside, your image moving on a screen:
inside, your bedside locker
sheeted in polythene.
Nurses put down food at the door.
Now you’re rockbound in solitary,
governed by the laws of uncertainty.
Read your contaminated book
which will be disposed of later.
Do not think.
That man with the moustache has slit your throat,
left you a coral necklace, silver links and garnet beading.
Yesterday you wore a square white dressing
pinned to one side,
a bubbling inlaid circlet,
Each day they take out more silvering.
Surgical pliers hang from your bedhead.
You sit up reciting limericks.
(My turquoise. I had it from Leah when I was a bachelor. Shylock)
We were learning to walk together,
a three-legged pas-de-deux,
stepping out, finding the fit
of arms around waists,
palms in the packed, live
back pocket of the other’s jeans.
At Northgate you stopped to buy me
a painted lead curiosity,
a miniature scarlet devil
galloping bareback on a cross black pig –
only six pre-decimal shillings.
I let you put it like an amulet into my hand,
though well taught
not to take presents from strangers.
Disappeared, stolen or lost
out of my deep suitcase
on the Holyhead boat
the very first time we were parted.
If I still had that souvenir
I might remember it less.
Copyright © Grainne Tobin 2002
Grainne Tobin’s first collection, Banjaxed, is being launched by Summer Palace Press in late June 2002, with financial support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Her work has been published in Blackstaff Press’s Word Of Mouth, H.U. magazine, Cyphers, Fortnight, Dolly Mixtures, The Salmon, the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society competition anthology, the Poetry in Motion project’s anthology, You Can’t Eat FLags For Breakfast, and The Dickens, of Copperfields bookshops in California. She was commissioned by the Old Museum Arts Centre in Belfast to write a poem for a joint art and poetry exhibition and has worked as a tutor in creative writing for the Pushkin Prizes and other groups. She has also read two prose pieces recently on BBC Radios 3 and 4.
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