Image by Hanna Burton

'A perfect example of a paralysed larynx'

Stephanie Norgate


'A perfect example of a paralysed larynx'

Stephanie Norgate


Poem introduction

This poem came about from being present at a hospital appointment with my father when he had thyroid cancer. The poem started as an expression of anger but changed itself into a poem about the way work connects people. The title is a quotation from the surgeon during the check-up. I made some discoveries about the poem later, after being asked specific questions about it by a Medical Humanities student at Imperial College. I studied Latin for a long time, and that does affect my writing occasionally. The Latin for larch is laryx, and though that's not the same as larynx, I can't help thinking the sound connection for me as a poet was probably part of the link between trees and a voice in the poem. In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas' father Anchises is said to have a 'green old age' - and I think there's an association there with the evergreen shapes of the larches which look as if they should go on being green forever but shed their leaves. The picture in the waiting room extended over its own frame, and at the same time I had been reading about 'open field' poetry. The student takes a photograph which means my father's image survives in the hospital and in the study of medicine, just as the picture of the landscape exists in the waiting room at the beginning. The usual boundaries between things seemed to dissolve; landscapes came indoors, came into bodies; trees entered into a voice, connected strands of work and grief, just as the photograph does.

'A perfect example of a paralysed larynx'

'A perfect example of a paralysed larynx'

In the waiting-room we'd stared
for hours at the umbrella pine
in a painting someone had put there
to help us wait. The sky leaked
over the moor, the moor leaked its heather
over the frame, the purple light leaked
into the wall from the open field
while your ballooning arm
leaked into the chair.

The consultant's voice was clean
and quick. 'May I take your photograph?'
His students, busy cartographers,
gathered up their implements,
torches, lenses, clipboards,
words like 'block of disease'.
And there was your chest,
pale as a birch and as thin,
the blue islands, blue as pines,
like a map some pressure of geography
had caused. 'Of course,'
you said, glad to be useful again.

'Come here and look at this
perfect example of a paralysed larynx.'

Yet you could still speak
and to me your voice sounded
no different, textured, lyrical
like a rough piece of wood you'd handle
and plane or turn into shape,
forests in that voice,
beech and larch and teak,
a good bit of oak,
some pine grained as streaming water,
as wood shavings scattered on a sawdust floor.

Months later, driving through woods
there's a patch of larches, made
papery and apricot by light,
their evergreen shapes at odds
with their orange needled leaves,
and something of you has leaked
into them, something you would
have said about larchwood, some lost
knowledge, some connection only
I can make now with the saw's rasp
or planks lined up how you wanted them,
or with a student in the hospital, holding
the photograph and peering
like a craftsman at the blue islands
of your chest. In the ark of suffering
maybe you are there with him,
handing him the tools, advising,
that long muscle of your voice,
unbotched and clear.


Recordings

Stephanie Norgate Reading from her Poems

1Green Lane

2Bulb Primer

3‘a perfect example of a paralysed larynx'

4Back at the Dry

5Early Morning

6Water on the Moon

7Saintes Maries de la Mer

8Riddles: The Wareham Sword The Alfred Jewel Augustine's Riddle

9Irrigator in the Far Field

10Haiku from Lucretius: Sensuous Proof of Atomism Aulis

11Mud Bath

12The Shirt

13Mrs. Rochester

14Reflux: The Japanese Bridge at Giverny

15Metro Boy

16It's Not on Google

17Last Saturday at Jo's

18bargain

19Madron Well

20Send & Receive - fifteen sonnets

Books & cds by Stephanie Norgate