Not fine


You text me

‘how long have they said

till you’re all healed and fighting fit.’

As if there is only

summer and winter,

living and dying.


Instead of this long bumpy road

back to health with its tree roots

that break through tarmac

and trip me up at unexpected moments.

Its sly puddles and treacherous potholes,

its moments of spinning on ice.

The signposts crossed out and the sat nav

not even recognising its existence.


I don’t know how to tell you

about the stopping to pick blackberries,

the view of the lavender field

I never noticed before,

the moon hung a silver coin in a velvet sky.


I used to be suspicious of journeys,

not sure that I travelled particularly well.

But I’ve surprised myself

with how far I can limp.

One foot after the other,

each day with its twists and turns.


Not much to do with the doctor’s prognosis,

yet  I continue to send these postcards

for those who also find themselves

on this road to God knows where.


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There are wings in the window.

I point out the great whiteness

of the heron as he soars impossibly huge

against a sky bruised with early evening.

You say it’s already getting darker,

the summer a fish slipping through our fingers.

Our dove hotel still empty,

but the stream has a new island I have yet to see.


I think of a gangster’s sadness at wild ducks

leaving a swimming pool as I watch

the starlings steal our blueberries.

Sparrows are not grateful,

they dance in the hedges

making nests for babies who will fly away.


Still when our little boy brings us pigeon feathers,

we coo at their lightness, their freedom,

how they tickle under the chin.

I think maybe this sickness,

this nearly losing everything,

is a kind of migration,

a mirror that never stays still,

words written on water.

And at last I have a home,

a place to float back to.


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The crack of bubble wrap underfoot,

your roly poly dance,

drawing your hand in mine,

the cutting up of diamonds.

Our neighbour says

‘it’s good to see you looking so normal’

as she drives past me in our doorway

struggling to fasten your shoes.

And I think as you kiss me goodbye

with a ‘care wool’ hug,

yes, that’s right,

how wonderful, how miraculous

normal feels

after all the pain and the needles

and the waiting for scans

that scar with their abnormalities,

their malignant growths,

their cells that multiply

in weird lumps that threaten

to catch the every day in their claws

and rip it to shreds.


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After the Op


I wake to the silence of home.

No beeps, no distant voices

in corridors, no professional footsteps.

Just the deep quiet of the countryside,

which unnerved me when we first moved

to the middle of nowhere, but now feels

centred and safe.  The birds warming up

for dawn.  Each note a bubble floating

into the light.  A chord that chimes

with the promise of a beautiful August day,

and I realise I have slept a sleep

so deep and delicious,

so free from the whisper of pain,

that I am filled with a strange kind of song.

No tune, no words,

just grateful.


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There’s been a plane crash

and I am one of the survivors

who make camps on a sheet of ice,

Antarctica perhaps.


There is a perfect circle cut in the snow.

I fall in thinking this is cold but it’s okay

but then suddenly I am being sucked

down and down at great speed

and it’s freezing but I’m thinking

I’ll just go with it when suddenly

it occurs to me but what about my little boy,

this is far too cold for him.


So I start desperately trying to swim back up,

it’s the most enormous effort

and then I realise I’m under the ice

and I need to find the hole if I’m to get out.


I hear someone talking on the phone

and I’m filled with rage because why

are they talking about me as if I’m not there

when I’m right here only I can’t open my eyes.


I wake with the most disturbing feeling

that this has not been a dream,

this actually happened to me

on an operating table in a hospital

where I came back from a place

that was colder than anywhere I’ve ever known.



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Cut the BS


If cancer is a gift

then I’d like the receipt please,

and as my mother said to me once,

it’s true you do learn a lot from this disease

but Jesus there are easier ways to learn things,

and I really appreciated my life any way,

even if I was guilty of not seeing this coming,

and I had plenty of other interesting topics to write about,

so didn’t really need the inspiration, and most of all,

it is not good for my son to break away from me

or become independent or learn to be a big boy now.

He is two years old, he needs his mother.

I know you mean well but you can take

this whole being positive lark

just a bit too far in my opinion.

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Reading the stripy pyjamas


I found the monster when I was crossing

the parking lot.  His diesel claws clicking

on sulphur.  You said you couldn’t smell it.

The tiniest lump of lemon tickled

my throat.  I was tempted to wipe the screen

sterile.  I went back to nothing, almost,

absolutely, definitely nothing.

It was the auburn anniversary

of a death I wish I had never seen.

The hospital doors were sore and bloodshot.

Eerily familiar. The sky promised

a soft summer of lemonade sherbet

sipped slowly.  She said I was lumpy.

She said she was sorry my mother died.


I knew then I was not imagining

the ghost of an x-ray. The creature aches.

Sometimes I think he’s left but he’s still there.

A fingerprint of an accusation.

Just scans.  She said best let go of Vegas,

best not to sit alone, best not to wait.

As many biopsies as you can take.

There’s a phrase I never wanted to hear.

The doctor smelt of peaches.  He nearly

apologised.  I swallowed

my bruises. I had drunk an iceberg.

We sat in the car and cried.

The beast ate the locks.  I tried to explain

we would need all of his teeth removed.


Strange that it took such savage dentistry

to taste that you love me. That the jungle

was all in my head.  Only the tiger

is real, though he sounds like the memory

of somebody else’s dream. His mouth wide.

He’s out there now, prowling along the ledge.

I wouldn’t say we were friends, I wouldn’t

say I’d invite him to tea, but there is

a puzzle to his beauty all the same.

A wildness. He has stripped us right back.

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