Three poems by Nia Broomhall
Nia Broomhall’s three poems each address the illness or passing of a loved person. ‘Morphine Driver’ demonstrates her mastery of sound play — look at the lovely alliteration of “soft shunt” and “bleeding into a blue”. She uses rhyme and part-rhyme effectively, for example in “believe / leave”, and “rehearse / place”. In fact, we become increasingly aware of sound throughout the poem, from the faint noises such as the sound of fluid in the tube of the morphine driver, the whisper of the nurse, and the insect buzzing at the window, to more intrusive noises such as the roar of the aeroplanes in the sky. Somehow, imminent death is conflated with this small bee or bluebottle trying to leave, and this is underlined by references to other things leaving or disappearing — the residue of the planes, for example, “a tail of nothing or red smoke”. We particularly like the jump at the beginning of line five, as if to focus on the pain of the sick woman is too much to bear. The last line feels somehow open ended, which seems appropriate.
In ‘Tulips’ the death of a loved person is approached with the utmost care. It’s a delicate, restrained poem that focuses on flowers, and is full of colour. The repeated phrases (“There are tulips today […] there are / daisies today”, “I will plant”, “she will be gone”) again evoke the sense that the narrator is focussing on the small, the actual, the physical, because the larger picture is too painful to look at. Short lines emphasise this impression of a mind interrupted, and an attention span limited. Broomhall threads rhyme through the poem, with “will / still / fill” and “day / anyway / I / arrives /sky”. The tone is sad, calm, slightly distracted.
Broomhall has said that nailing the syllables in a sonnet line gives her a “flying dopamine buzz”. She’s clearly a fan of the form — see her Three Somerset Sonnets in issue sixteen of Bad Lilies (October 2023) here: Issue Sixteen: Mise-en-scène. ‘Dutch Elm’ is a fairly classic example – fourteen lines, ten syllables and five beats in each line, ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyming pattern, heightened diction, a developed argument, and a volta – here the turn is somewhere in the ninth line. A sonnet is a pot for containing and controlling emotion, and Broomhall uses it for precisely this – to order and present memories of her father, and to give us a gentle nudge to remember those who have gone
We could hear it was working from the soft shunt of fluid
through the tube and the reassuring whisper
she’s fine, but we searched her face for the relief and found
cloud-clenched lids, thin-needled nothing and
today they are rehearsing for the airshow. The house is full
of the noise of nine planes, arrowheads and revolutions
though every time I look up there is an edge of a wing
or a tail of nothing or red smoke bleeding into a blue
that is full of just noise. A sky is a big place. Somewhere in here
there is a tiny panic at a window that might be closed or
a bee or not or a bluebottle trying to leave. A sky’s a big place
and we will not believe in things we cannot see.
There are tulips today
that she won’t see, red
and yellow and blossom
on branches of apple.
The laburnum isn’t
flowering yet. There are
daisies today. There are
small blue ones with
names I have forgotten
and tiny leaves. It is a blue
day that smells of earth.
I will plant geraniums
and busy lizzies that will
bloom until September,
and when that arrives
she will not be here.
I will plant them anyway,
for the pink and white
when I come home from
work, but she will still
be gone. I will plant them
anyway. She will still be
gone. I will fill the green
jug she gave me with
water and tulips. The sun
will move across the sky.
My father used to talk about the elms
as if he walked among their standing ghosts.
As if he knew their green and lighted realm
was his, and let their wind-high voices float
to homelands he had never seen, in words
he didn’t know. He mourned those trees for years
He mourned them like the tongue he never heard
his father speak, the family that appeared
only in dreams. He knew the trees, at least.
He said that they were countless, then. He said
they stood like candle flames. But now new trees
stand in their place, and face the wind instead,
all voice and shade and green enough for us,
if we forget what we have lost or loved.