Cars pull up at the rain-shined entrance
where the road-river silvers from the drain
and an ambulance tailgate unloads
the oxygen, the smoker still wearing slippers
clutching the remote. Neon above sliding doors
reads Emergencies, the Em strobing
like it’s 1989 and nothing’s changed
since the nurses’ white origami halos
sterile and hair-gripped, or the sister’s habit
of pocketing painkillers home for her mother
when her legs swelled up, ulcerating,
the smell of pustulating skin and fat
that hung in the air like washing.
On the fire stairs Maggie stubs her smoke
into the Quality Street tin lid
pulls her pink towelling dressing-gown tight
and drags her drip-stand back to bed
for 10 o’clock drugs. She won’t sleep.
In the bed next to hers, curtains pulled,
gurgled wheezing crawls the walls like mildew
until 4:15 when it stops.
Low voices and chair legs scrape
the buffed-raw linoleum
as relatives void into the lobby.
Working his collar loose, the chaplain
dumps his body in the canteen
with the sitting stench of peas and colostomies.
He won’t go home to the hollowed cheeks
of his sleeping wife until he has to.
He has to be there when she wakes
when temazepam and morphine wear thin
and daylight breaks her eyelids’ papery windows.
6am, the sun’s on her face as Maggie showers
and gowns for theatre, checklist ticked
no false teeth, no pregnancy, wedding ring removed.
She’s tucked between the white, cuffed sheet
and hard white pillow like an expectant statue
as Sister steps through the sliding doors
and into the road still christened with rain.
From Angelina D’Roza’s forthcoming debut collection Envies the Birds (published by Longbarrow Press in spring 2016). Listen to Angelina D’Roza reading this poem (on the third floor of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield):
A short film accompanying the poem: