THE FROGMORE POETRY PRIZE 2013

Charles Evans

OXYGEN

She's in Ward 2, over by the window
Go straight in, they said

I hurried past the desk and ringing phones
Turned through the doorway of panel and glass
Looked away from the old lady's spindle legs
As she nodded and tugged at a grubby robe
Passed a chatting group round a still sleeper
And made for the corner

The curtains were open around the bed
That's not my wife, I said
But it was and I sat, taking her hand
The thin hair was rucked by the tight black band
Holding the mask in place, and the thing wheezed air
Down its long tube from the iron tank, then a voice
Excuse me, are you the next-of-kin? asked a nurse
I'm the ex-husband, I said.

Your name's not under next-of-kin
No, I said, it wouldn't be
And looked back at my wife whose voice came faint
And thin through the misted perspex keeping her distant
Locking her in the tight spare world of her oxygen
Far from the place I sat, far from the twenty years
We breathed together, far from the ex-life
I wore like a wound.

Can you see the gauge? Is it full?
She was leaning forward, pale, worried
I pulled the thing towards me
The needle flickered like a living thing
The pointer showing numbers, life
Hissing the hand that fumbled
Puffing its secret diet, not for me, not for the ex
as it sought her face

The next day I went straight in
Seeing the empty bed
She's been discharged, they said, gone to her sister
I reached down for the mask, strands of her hair
Clung to the band, the tube curled where it lay
As I held it close the nurse took if from my hand
That's oxygen, she said, you don't need that
Oh yes,
I said, I do



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