The Friday Poem on 04/03/22
We chose ‘Lost at the Western General’ by Kate Hendry partly because its subject matter resonates so powerfully with many women, and partly because the form and language of the poem reflects and carries the content so well. It’s written in tight couplets, appropriate for a couple under stress. The language is precise, the line endings — slightly abrupt — create a sense of disconnect. The overwhelming impression is one of control, of just being able to hold down rising panic, of just managing to deal with unpleasant memories. We think it’s a very accomplished, astute, and profoundly compassionate poem, and we’re very happy to have it.
Lost at the Western General
It only happened once, at night —
the ward we needed wasn’t listed
on any signs and there was no one
in the Covid-empty corridors to ask.
Finally, I recognised the stairs
I’d descended after surgery
and so we found ourselves
by mistake, in ward six,
where I’d had my mastectomy
and I showed you the dayroom where
I’d waited, all morning, with ringing
phones and abandoned bags
of women taken before me,
and the toilet where I took
a pregnancy test — me, at 50?! —
and held my sweating breast
for the last time, and the quiet room
where I rang you afterwards.
No one saw us or stopped us.
I couldn’t remember
which of the green double doors
led to the theatre where the surgeon
removed my breast but by then
we were out the other side
and you delivered me to the night nurse
in the cancer assessment unit
and she led me to a bed
with my name already written
above it and said she’d look after me
and that you must go home.