The Nursing Home Rabbit
Talk of cow tail pumps and tilley lamps,
old Hollywood stars
captioned in jazzy font,
the empty chair
by someone’s side,
all rebuffed with threat of a fist.
Trying our damnedest to get him out
we coax wheedle cajole
turn up the volume
on ‘Sam’s Song’
spinning like a crackly comet
on the nineteen seventies stereo.
Our soft-shoed entrances inspire
grimace and gulder
or high acute-angle salute.
Old military man
straight as Sunday morning
in a room rank with urine and sweat.
Behind closed curtains
he levels the hours
manoeuvring between locker and sink.
Meals and medication
a volley of irrelevant commas
punctuating his thousand yard stare.
Family tell us not to worry
he always preferred his own
to the company of others
so let him be
sockless in clattery brogues
endlessly pacing his tight barrack.
But when a girl carries a rabbit
called Night to his door
lips turn vowel and out he comes.
There among the rest
the doe on his knee
troglodyte blinking in a plush black sun.
In good faith they brought him to this place
from a garden where he remembered
names of flowers
sleeping under the clemency of snow:
delphiniums, feverfew, salvia
mallow, malva, discs of gold yarrow,
the grammar of geraniums
the summer bedding
nigella, nemesia, nicotiana
the straight quartz path he raked
two weeks before admission
for review of medication:
Donepezil, Madopar and Citalopram
taken morning, noon and night
for he knew importance of consistency
positive attitude, backbone and self-reliance.
Studying from the start every symptom
signposting an implacable path
he stared the tiger straight in its fiery green iris.
Holding that wild penetrating gaze
up to the hour
he entered this door
with a suit and a smile and answers
when asked date day country county town
if he could name the prime minister
spell ‘world’ backwards, colour in a circle
while a man wearing two odd slippers
pissed over ersatz embers
and a seventy-five-year-old woman
sobbed as she breastfed a cabbage patch doll.
She could not relinquish
even to eat meals he would soon refuse.
Slamming shut two blue eyes
as medics discuss tube feeds
and fluids given subcut.
His questions remaining
unanswered in the damp phosphorous air
while a consultant says
he simply wasn’t far enough gone for in here.
But he is now
as Tyto Alba, the great barn owl
rises through sepulchral dark
like a feudal flare or the ghost given up.
When he saw his future
squatting in the corner of a dementia assessment unit.
Scent of a Salesman
We spoke of Russian swans and green tea
funerals and snow diviners
our ways wending from sofa and armchair
to the winter brimmed window
he came to measure
with precision matched
only by the Windsor
in the taupe tie he knotted
after dawn’s ritual
with potions and petalled water
tinged air cedar and mandarin and almond
ablutions practised every morning
down careful years
a liturgy of self
silking characters in the monosyllable of his name
quiet on my tongue as I wondered
what the salesman would say
if he could see himself a nursing home patient
some quarter of a century hence
ruby elixir and emerald linctus
still staining his creased chin
two hours after the medicine round was done
if he could touch
the soup shingled checked pullover
the unused toothbrush, hard and parched
like the Christmas cactus on his locker
if he could see the dark crescents
looming under nails
or feel the damp cloth used to rub face and hands
and sometimes armpits, in the rush demanding
all residents be up by nine fifteen
because that is when breakfast is
and always has been
if he could taste the raspberry food supplement
given in lieu of timely spoon and encouragement
would he ask before care came
to be left on a northern beach
in his black suit and ivory shirt
in night hued cedar and mandarin and almond
shaded now with hints of Siberian juniper
as tides gather there among the gathering white birds.
Name of the back lounge in a back ward
in the dark green grounds of a redbrick asylum.
Here the feeders sit in lines
we their keepers administering liquidised life.
Plastic spoons loaded from plastic bowls.
Soft diets to prevent choking
washed down with fluids thickened. To sludge.
Languidly sliding from plastic nipples
on lidded beakers.
Long since any of these men held cutlery
took a step, said a word. Disease mangling mind
stripping body back to bone and skin
barely housing Adam apples
on half-shaved scaldy necks. Eyes still crusted
with sleep as the dinner trolley trundles in.
From the nest of a kirton chair a face once grazed
by ravenous fingertips and fuchsia lips.
Now a gaping beak.
Outside the bay window in the emerald heart
of a perfect oval, Magnolia Soulangeana.
Heavenly hybrid first flowering in the forge
of a Frenchman’s hand.
This mature specimen drunk on light
each blossom a goblet of snow and porphyry
opening into a cup of sun.
At the scene a row of patients face magnolia view.
A wall painted repainted forty shades of cream.
Clare McCotter’s haiku, tanka, and haibun have been published in many parts of the world. In 2010 and 2011, she won the IHS Dóchas Ireland Haiku Award. In 2013, she won The British Tanka Award.
Claire has published numerous peer-reviewed articles on Belfast-born Beatrice Grimshaw’s travel writing and fiction. Her longer poetry has appeared in various literary journals, including Abridged, The Moth Magazine, and The Stinging Fly.
Clare was one of three writers featured in Measuring: Dedalus New Writers 1. Black Horse Running, her first collection of haiku, tanka, and haibun, was published in 2012. Clare’s home is Kilrea, County Derry.
To read more of Clare, click here.