Artwork by Jane Burn
Edited by Beth McDonough
My son was two when he first took not E
but ketamine. In the next bed a boy,
eighteen perhaps, called out, ‘I need – I need
water.’ I heard him through the screen. The toy
I held hung limp. My son had cut his face,
the slash below his mouth filled up with blood.
I’d held it shut, and felt the iron taste
run through my teeth. I pressed and held. How could
I keep us safe? The boy called out, ‘Stop, no.
Give me water.’ He almost sang the words
and nurses came and held him down – I hoped
for different things. My son came to and saw
not me but aeroplanes. They took him high
and flew him from my arms out to the sky.
By Natalie Shaw
Now, settled in your iron bed,
you sleep like lead.
The pulse on your cheek, an afterthought of the
electrical storm that sent you
flapping and jigging at midnight.
Stabilise, roll your eyes.
My life is patterned after yours:
eating, sleeping, waiting.
Nurses come and go—stiff, white ghosts in the night.
The chap next door tried Granny’s pills.
Another, broken by a car,
A sweet voiced girl plays guitar
She’ll be coming round the mountain . . .
Playground songs in antiseptic suspension.
A doctor doing her rounds,
unexpectedly pretty, holds my glance
as I note the round, expectant, belly
and the fear in her eyes of what she cannot control.
Our story ends without tragedy.
But something is lost as the road spreads out before us.
By Jane Baston
First published in the anthology Sunrise at Macchu Picchu (Women’s Words 2011)
I listen to you singing to yourself. Watch you in the garden, finding
a teammate in the fence as it returns the ball to you – standing in for
the brother or sister I never gave you. I couldn’t give you.
Something broke after you – I tell you how I could never have made
something so magical twice, that you grew so tall and strong
because you are all my babies born at once.
By Jane Burn
Growing like a
He spins in wide circles,
cuts through tendrils
knotted in his head.
Before this, I’d said:
You’re growing like a weed!
He said to stop saying he’s growing
like a weed, he said he’s not like a weed
at all. He said weeds are bad, unwanted.
And that was when my son
I say: No sweetheart, no,
it’s because weeds grow fast.
And not all weeds are bad: nettle
tea, dandelion wine, berries
from wild brambles in early autumn.
He stops, and looks at me.
I say: you couldn’t be more wanted
You’re sweet like clover blossoms,
and lucky like clover with four leaves, too.
Then he smiles
(smiles: bright, common,
but suddenly beautiful,
the first dandelion
heads in May)
I love you, Mum.
My son hugs me
(hugs: rare, special,
four leaf clovers)
and I kiss his hair,
calming, like dock leaves
on nettle stings.
By Kate Garrett
*A slightly older version of this poem was previously published on Ink, Sweat & Tears in September 2013
Clearance (For Anna)
It was a week before I could bring myself
to go into her room. Armed with boxes and black bags,
standing where I used to watch her sleeping.
………………….She’s still here –
the evidence is everywhere,
discarded magazines and cups, a shoe,
an unloved teddy bear, dishevelled,
empty bed – the pillows gift her smell.
Once we lived, pulse to pulse, my womb’s
sweet weight, slow rising, like bread.
I borrowed her for a while,
aware at last of inescapable repeats
in time. Watched with my mother’s eyes
the same road rising, old footsteps worn afresh
through dust, exiled by knowledge.
When she came, I knew I would bargain
with anybody’s gods, forsake my soul
to keep her safe – struggling between destiny
I didn’t notice the growing of her. Her leaving,
a rushed affair, she was never going to be a stay-at-home,
a last quick kiss, my heart
off guard, tears at bay – a room to clear.
By Lesley Quayle
(First published in my pamphlet Songs for Lesser Gods (erbacce, 2009)