Poetry > Samples
1. The letter. April 1921
Father’s letter put it starkly,
stated symptom, coughing blood.
Doctor Moran’s diagnosis,
Did that hay day in Dromard -
sweating, chilling in the dew -
or the spits, the coughs and splutters
of your Palace picturegoers
allow the bacillus intrude?
I read everything I could
about consumption, tuberculosis,
wasting disease, pale plague,
so I knew what to expect
when I rushed back from college -
loss of weight and appetite,
flushed cheeks, dull lethargy
and the coughing up of blood.
2. Newcastle: May - November 1921
Catch it early, the theory said, and the cure
is simple: pure air, bed rest and healthy food.
We installed you in Newcastle sanatorium,
aloft in Wicklow, the Irish Davos.
Each visit a pilgrimage from Sligo,
a halt in Ranelagh, then a climb
by winding roadway to the windswept,
whitewashed sanatorium, scoured of colour,
home to bloodless faces. You were
wrapped up in your bed on the veranda
or in the ward, windows thrown wide
to embrace the cleansing western wind.
Father narrated news of neighbours,
Meehan’s windows and the latest pictures,
I tried to jig your spirit with bulletin
of concert, ball and bridge. In vain.
You complained, of the cold, the heat,
the wind, the calm; the other patients,
the wait since our last visit. We left,
consumed by guilt, despair, relief.
The journey homeward always the worst.
3. Home: December 1921
At last, wind-weary,
you made us take you home
just before they signed the Treaty.
Father tried to replicate
sanatorium conditions, bed rest,
good food, a separate room,
windows nailed open,
clothes scrubbed separately.
We quarantined your vessels,
boiled your sputum cups,
restricted family intimacy
to prevent contagion.
In the end you ridiculed his care
refusing rest and retirement.
“While I am here I’ll be a part of
this family”. Bursts of elation
balanced dour depressions
as your body wasted
and your grip slackened.
4. Departure: 15 August 1922
I watched you leave,
your slender nose sharpening
your flushed cheeks glowing
your eyes glittering in their deep hollows
your shoulder blades like the wings of birds.
Your harsh cough racked your chest
your breath became foul smelling
your breathing short and shallow
your voice a rasping wheeze.
Your end a relief.