Title: Sport 34

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, 2006

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 34: Winter 2006

Rae Varcoe

page 65

Rae Varcoe

Santa Caterina, Heart of the S'nai

I remember the serial translation of
does he have chest pain?
passing along the language chain

first to the tall Bishop
in his long frock and high
black souffléed hat

lips moving in a thick beard
murmuring Greek in the
Orthodox ear of the Abbott

who spoke to a short acned monk
who passed a longer version
to the grey Bedouin standing

in this stiff dark rank
beside the monastery bed.

The question was scarcely necessary.
The bedbound camel driver's
short blunt fingers pressed his sternum.

His pallor, sweat,
knotted face and liquid breath
said everything.

page 66

I'd come down from Moses'
mountain after a night spent shivering
inside my frozen Fairydown.

I gave the Bedouin my tablets:
frusemide, digoxin
and injected morphine.

As a reciprocal gift
the charnel house
was opened for view.

The bony bits of all monks
for seven centuries
filed drily on slatted shelves

first the unflat:
pelves, ribs, vertebrae
models unchanged

through the centuries
skulls on the top row
all facing forward

long bones next
laid across their shelf
with little piles of knuckle bones

then two supinated
intact hands.

page 67

Asylum Notes

If you have ever made porridge for a hundred with
the assistance of three ancient asylum patients
you'll understand how it was each Seacliff dawn
stirring the steaming, resistant oats as the light fell
on the bars, the Brick and the nurses scurrying over
the grass each draped in a red cape and wading through

a layer of mist. The cries from the Brick rose through
the window bars, ejected along with
any objects small enough to heave over
the high sills. These were the patients
whose nursing care eventually fell
into my frightened hands. It did dawn

on me, that a solitary nurse on a dark dawn
morning, moving, keys clanking, through
the dirty dayroom could in one fell
swoop on her starch stiffened person, with
even a sheet in the patient's
hand, and good timing, be easily over-

come. Even after years, I never quite got over
that fear. On night duty in the hours before dawn
I would, as instructed, 'Lavitate the patients,
Nurse', then listen to distorted voices echo through
the long corridors. Outside, there was bricked-up silence with
little interruptions as Matron's emptied bottles fell

page 68

singly into the rubbish tin. It sometimes fell
to her to admonish the inebriate admissions over
at Ladies' Reception. She always ate two fried eggs with
bacon for breakfast. On the Aga at dawn
in my turn, I would cook and deliver them through
her window. I never did master the Aga. The patients

tried to teach me that art. They had patience,
but I was distracted by the tobacco that fell
in clumps from the Zig Zag papers through
my fingers as I rolled ciggies for them. Over
the years I learned to roll with either hand from dawn
to dusk, licking, flicking, and lighting with

nonchalance. Through all this the patients
moved, some in hope, back home. Others fell
ill for always, never over it, never aware of any dawn.

page 69

My Dead Surround Me

they stand shoulder
to white draped shoulder
faces laced with
the sweat of their struggle

lids my fingers have lowered
and eyes I have not touched
all closely watching

they stand in ranks around me
they do not speak
speech has ceased
with their blood beat

my ears have heard
their hearts' silence
my pen has ended their record
certified dead
vital signs absent

no mourning fills my mind
we stand there, smiling

no rictus, this

our smiles rise lightly
above the gravity

page 70

now they are
walking forward
gliding quietly
over the ground

and I am touched
by a soft shroud
worn and warm
like my mother

and still they move
until I am surrounded
by a caul
of my dead, smiling