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Instruction

Instruction

Check: water, soap, a folded sheet, a shroud.
Close cubicle curtains; light's swallowed
in hospital green. Our man lies dense
with gravity: an arm, his head, at angles
as if dropped from a great height. There is
a fogged mermaid from shoulder to wrist,
nicotine-stained teeth, nails dug with dirt -
a labourer then, one for the women.
A smooth drain to ivory is overtaking
from the feet. Wash him, swiftly, praising
in murmurs like your mother used,
undressing you when asleep. Dry carefully.
If he complained at the damp when alive, dry
again. Remove teeth, all tags, rip off elastoplast -
careful now, each cell is snuffing its lights,
but black blood still spurts. Now,
the shroud (opaque, choir-boy ruff), fasten
it on him, comb his hair to the right. Now
he could be anyone. Now wrap in the sheet,
like a parcel, start at his feet. Swaddle (not
tight nor too loose) - it's an art, sheafing
this bundle of untied, heavy sticks. Hesitate
before covering his face, bandaging warm
wet recesses of eyes, mouth. Your hands
will prick - an animal sniffing last traces
of life. Cradle the head, bind it with tape
and when it lolls, lovingly against your chest,
lower it gently as a bowl brimmed with water.
Collect tags, teeth, washbowl. Open
the window, let the soul fly. Through
green curtains the day will tear: cabs, sun-
glare, rain. Remember to check:
tidied bed, emptied cabinet, sheeted form -
observe him recede to the flux between seconds,
the slowness of sand. Don't loiter. Slide
back into the ward's slipstream; pick up
your pace immediately.


from The Point of Splitting (Bloodaxe, 2005), © Sally Read 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Recordings

Sally Read Reading from her poems

1Dismantling the Gun

2Soldier

3Castelsardo, Sardegna

4The Death Bell

5Instruction

6Annunciation

7Late Sonata

8The Glass Eye

9Mastectomy

10Undone

11Confession

12I Waited the Afternoon in Your Room

13Journey

14Mafia Flowers

15Annunciation

16The Reflex

17Remedy

18As he died

19Backlash

20The Baptism

21Knowledge

22Kriah

23The Crossing

24Hyacinths

25Hearing the Heart

26Gestation

27Through Glass

28The Waiting

29The Lullaby Hours

30Broken Sleep

31The Note

32Toddler

33Song

34Weaning

Books by Sally Read