Carole Coates


I wrote Don't worry. You're in hospital and I'll come and see you
every day. You're ill and the doctors will make you better

and I suddenly thought of the seven brothers turned to swans
and how their sister, silent in her tower, spent years
weaving shirts from nettles to make them well.

And I wrote I've labelled your wash-bag and your little radio
and this is our phone number and I've got your wedding ring.
Don't worry. I wrote this in a brown notebook with a big JOHN
on the cover.

I took you poetry because your memory
could hold a poem but nothing longer and you read only poems
in the first two months of this quite mild winter and I drove
every day on the long wet roads to visit you.

When I saw your ward and the men quiet in their beds
I thought of the swan enchantment you were all mysteries
to the nurses and doctors weaving you nettle shirts.
Orphaned, retired, you said Tell my parents and tell them at work
and the man opposite suddenly dumb and the one at your side
paralysed and in pain for no reason. There was no diagnosis.

I said you were doing fine, having lots of tests and they'd soon
find out what was the matter. And I was fine, thank you.
But it wasn't soon and I wasn't fine and the only day I cried
I was like a burst main and I drove on the flooded roads
through the rain in a car full of tears. I saw
the great white foot of the turbine nudging the road,
the wind arms lost in rain and mist .
You were all swans, lost, far out over grey waters
creaking slowly along in the fog with no recollection of landfall.
But the shirts were finished after seven years except for a sleeve
and one of the brothers, though cured, had a swan's wing for an arm.

Then you read me a poem
and I filled in your menu card and fed you tangerines
and you said how you liked the nurses, they were so kind .
When I went you determined to see me to the door.
Then I had to see you back to your own ward -
you were vague about which one it was -
and you wanted politely to see me out again.

Stay here, I said They're going to make you well. 

from Crazy Days, 2014, Wayleave Press
and in Fanfare: Poems by Contemporary Women Poets, 2015, Second Light Publications

© 2014 Carole Coates

The poems on these pages are the intellectual property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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Last updated 20 June 2016