I can't believe it's really you
in this hospital bed
in intensive care,
and oh so still;
a machine breathing for you
and a geometric pattern
in neon colours jerking and stuttering
and sliding across a screen,
monitoring your heart rate.
A sweet-faced nurse in uniform blues
attends to your unconscious needs
with Zen-like calm, whilst I am helpless,
sterilised, uncomfortable in my white
plastic apron, thinking it should be me;
I am twenty years older than you.
I am remembering the new baby you
utterly dependent and vulnerable
like now, yet not like now.
Was there ever such a happy time,
the happiness of not knowing
beyond the moment.
I touch your bare shoulder,
whisper your name
but you do not react.
Your little sister bends over you,
shiny-eyed, telling you she loves you.
Have your excesses finally done for you
at your third attempt, ironically
the one you never meant?
Dying is an art, Plath said
and she should know,
she had plenty of practice too.
You even tried it her way once
but typically you couldn't work the oven.
You look so peaceful, almost content,
something you never normally do,
and all the time your swollen body
rises and falls in rythm with
the thud and grind of the ventilator.
The corner of your mouth droops
with the weight of the coiled tube.
You would so hate that look.
I imagine the umbilical chord re-growing,
re-attaching itself, so that if I stay here
with you, I can keep you alive.
The doctor arrives with
his stream of acolytes,
all eyes obediently focussed on you,
He is matter-of-fact, pleasant even
but his language stark.
I hear snatches of words -
breathing difficulties, and
We had to sit on her to restrain her.
He sees my expression then
and explains with a wry smile,
`Yes we had to, she was quite bonkers'.
Now that hurts. I have never called you that.
`She's stable now though', he tells us,
`so we'll try waking her in forty-eight hours
and then we'll see.'
See what exactly?
I am too scared to ask.
Come back tomorrow,
the Zen nurse says gently.
But how can I leave when
I am your life support;
not that machine.
But she insists.
Goodbye see you later,
we say like normal,
to the replicate you,
whose face is not your face,
and all the paraphernalia
that for now is part of you.
Your sister is crying but I am numb.
We stop at the hospital cafe
for a soupy-grey coffee
stone-cold with skin on top
and an inedible cardboard sandwich.
We have shed the aprons
and with hands raw from washing,
don hats, scarves and gloves.
Outside an Arctic blast hits us.
Our breath steams up the car windows,
freezing rain spits onto the windscreen.
The weather may be terrible outside
but at least you are warm in bed.
I couldn't bear for you to be cold.
I couldn't bear that at all.