After The Stroke - Poem by Paul Hansford
This is my husband, my mother said
to the nurse with pride,
only she meant me.
Everyone in the day-room knew
who it was she had been expecting all day
waiting like a birthday child.
We all laughed and put her right,
and she laughed and continued
... and this is her husband
(only she should have said, This is his wife) .
So we all laughed again,
and my mother laughed as much as anybody.
Later, walking round the garden, she showed us the flowers
– roses, geraniums, poppies –
only she called them all lilies.
You can go home, the doctor had told her,
when you remember your name.
Who are you?
– Lily, she said, Lily.
Lilies out there (pointing at the roses) .
Well, at least she knows lilies are flowers.
It isn't as if her mind has gone,
I keep telling myself,
it's only the words won't come.
A week ago she knew her way
through the dictionary blindfold,
amazing at anagrams
scholarly at Scrabble,
and quicker than anyone she knew
to finish the daily crossword.
But now the thoughts that chase round
and round her puzzled brain
find no expression.
How can you say it's 'only' the words?
Having survived the first critical week
she is in no immediate danger.
She might last any time;
she might go any time.
All this, somehow, she realises,
and hasn't even the words to tell us
she knows and is not afraid.
Then after awkward silences
and awkwardly cheerful conversations
it's time to leave.
Will you help me on to the bus? she says
– meaning the bed –
and she laughs again.
After all, it's better than crying.
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