Monday Text: Clare Shaw’s “Poem About Dee Dee”

Every Monday, I will update my website with a story, poem, or excerpt that sticks to my ribs. Clare Shaw’s “Poem about Dee Dee” is the first entry in the series. Shaw is an English poet.

“Poem About Dee Dee” (from, Stay Awake, 2006, Bloodaxe Books) has always held a special place in my heart for its frank depiction of life on a public psychiatric hospital ward. Nothing fancy or flashy here–just brutal honesty. Here’s an audio version of Shaw reading the poem.

Poem about Dee Dee

by Clare Shaw

I

Dee Dee is out on the hospital roof.
From here, Liverpool is a story
she can read from beginning to end.

If you’ve never driven too fast
into a bend in the road,
felt the slow slide of your stomach

into a corner of itself;
if you’ve never leaned back
at the top of a rock,

felt the knot of the rope
like a waking snake
squirm loose in your hand;

if you’ve never walked home to a lover,
your tongue like a blade in your throat
to tell her it’s over;

if you’ve never known
the milk-white explosion
of a moment that could last forever;
then you have no idea how she felt.

II

Just one short sprint of thirty feet
to the low grey wall
and the city laid out like a map of itself.

Close your eyes
and its Sports Day.
You can smell the new-cut field.

There’s a crowd of everyone, bright
as if they’d been dipped in the river.
Everyone there you’d want to be there

and the sound of the cheer
is your big day out; it’s the prom
and the beer; the kiss under the Tower;

it’s a Midnight Mass of drunken song
and you’re pounding the pitch
to the finishing line

to be first to the faces waiting there;
the waiting arms,
the waiting air.

III

Two guards and three nurses
bring her down.

It’s evening, lock-up
and you’re drinking your tea
watching the hours
drain in the grey outside.

You see the streaks of concrete
on her face
and you remember the weight
of a grown man balled

through the fist
of his knees in your back.
You remember the taste,
like molten rust.

You remember your arms
pushed to the back of your neck;
how your shoulders were a flame
that scorched your chest

until all it could hold
was a necklace of tiny, red gasps.

You remember when
all that you were
was a scream
that no one could hear.

IV

The day room is a late-night
fish tank of sound
and yellow shadow.
The hum, bang, clatter of the ward.

Dormitories simmer with sleep.
I am wide-eyed with two weeks awake.
Her eyes
are methadone-heavy.

We watch TV in the small hours,
eating Frosties dry from the box.
We know all the tunes to Ceefax,
baiting the glaze-eyed agency staff

with high-risk jokes.
How about a day out?
It’s been three months since I crossed a road
and I’m beginning to lose the knack.

Dee Dee and me are having a laugh
dreaming plans for O.T.
rock climbing schemes
for the deeply depressed.

A barebacked parachute jump.
A Blackpool trip. Imagine
riding the Big One
with your seatbelt undone.

Dee Dee laughs.
Feels the wind in her hair,
the world spinning its pages
beneath her.

God, we laughed
in there
you could die laughing.

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