Tuesday, January 01, 2008

December Prize Poem

There were good things about all of the poems posted this month, and I was torn between three, finding different reasons to select one over the others during several readings. I eventually decided on the following poem because its opening line struck me the first time I read it; in fact I stopped and read it again to savour the language and the image. It is so freshly expressed.

Here’s the Prize Poem for December 2007 – ‘No rose bed, no gardener’ by Gillian Moyes – followed by a brief commentary:

No rose bed, no gardener

Light as a child in her bones,
we’re lifting her in linked arms
from bed to commode.

The blue nightie furled to her spine
exposing the red buds of bed sores,
she tenses at the glimpse of a face

in the patio window. It’s OK Mum
just reflections, says my sister. Well,
she replies, now dignity’s intact,

it’s a bloody good job we never
had a gardener

and gives us the old look – that flicker
of laughter in her eyes, her dry
throat rattling with chuckles.

My shoulders shaking, I dare
to glance at my sister
like that morning in school assembly

and she’s tickled pink with keeping it in
which doesn’t help me or our mother
who might slip like a soapy baby.

Stop it Mum or we’ll drop you,
I say, don’t make us laugh.
It hurts.

Gillian Moyes

The mother has become a child; the daughters the parents who care for her. The poem sensitively explores this reversal of roles that will be familiar to many people. The concrete detail creates a strong sense of place and the use of the present tense and dialogue engages us as readers, draws us in to these specific people and this particular moment.

The opening simile sets the scene so economically: fragility, helplessness, possibly a body that has wasted so that it seems little more than ‘bones’ and ‘light as a child’. At the end of the poem the mother is even smaller, compared to ‘a soapy baby’, and this reinforces the idea of the pending, and inevitable, loss through death.

I particularly like the lines and break – ‘of laughter in her eyes, her dry’/throat rattling with chuckles – which combine so movingly, and tragically, ideas of life and death: a dry sense of humour, death rattle.

And finally the understatement and ambiguity of the last stanza: we know as well as the narrator that it’s not only the laughter that hurts.

Congratulations, Gillian, on a very moving poem. I’ll put your prize in the post.
And many thanks to everyone who posted a poem; I enjoyed reading them all and look forward to reading more during January. The first prompt will appear at the end of this week.


Anonymous said...

Good decision, Lynne. This work shows how a poem can encapsulate economically some truth: prose never convincingly does this. Brava, Gillian.


margaret beston said...

I agree - a very sensitive and beautifully constructed poem. I also like the way Gillian has incorporated dialogue in such a natural way.

Sharra said...

I liked this one too - especially the image of the mother as a soapy baby - it really conjured up that reversal of roles that can happen between parents and children - very poignant.

gillian moyes said...

Many thanks Lynne and readers for such encouraging comments