Saturday, 27 October 2012

Craig Y Nos

You were eight when you got the infection.
All day long, that terrible racket hacked
through the bleached sanatorium
where day after day
mucus slapped the roof of your mouth,
sliding salt-green down the ridge
where your furred tongue was huge
and parched for weeks, barely able
to hiss the word dwr.
Your native language sucked away
through a hypodermic needle.

The last time you saw Aileen Morgan,
she was all sore angles beside her bed.
Stripped from the sheets with the fever,
shuddering in her nightdress,
you remarked softly on her pretty red scarf
twisting like blood through the bars.
It was years before you got over the sight
of her drug-shattered face on the pillow,
torso shapeless and white.
The nurses let loose her cold fingers
and tucked the scarf into a box.

You were wheeled on your beds to the balcony.
In hushed voices, they said
the cool Welsh winds worked miracles
if they did not kill you off. One morning Hywel
raised a sick arm of chicken-flesh, tinder-bone:
please Nurse, I’m cold in a  little voice.
She slapped his face with a gloveless hand.
Every morning before sunrise, she proofed herself
against tuberculosis in folds of starch and cotton,
scrubbed her hands by candlelight.
Scissors in their conical sheath grinned
from her breast-pocket.
Every day some child folded himself into a nautilus,
hacking his rags of lung softly into a pillow.
Turning your face to see children
rise up the wall through the ether,
your sternum became a birdcage; your glockenspiel
ribs drummed by mute little fingers.

It troubled you all those years later,
silver-haired in your bedroom. The shock
of a blotchy photograph slid out of a drawer.
The involuntary memory of accordion-lungs,
balcony talk. Aileen’s skeleton wrapped in a scarf.
Like a cough, the children of Craig-Y-Nos,
a thought you cannot shake.