We Found A Shadow - Poems from a Hospital Bed by Ashleigh Condon

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We Found a Shadow Poems from a hospital bed

Ashleigh Condon

We Found a Shadow Ashleigh Condon Copyright © AC 2021

Cover art (MRI scan): St Batholemew’s Hospital, London. Cover design: Ashleigh Condon Digital copy.


For my mum and dad, Christine and Patrick Condon, the most dedicated parents I could ever wish to have.

Ashleigh Condon lives in Rochford, Essex, and has a first class degree in Creative and Media Writing from Middlesex University. She is the Journal Editor for a wonderful national charity, and loves to create art and write poetry.

www.AshleighCondon.com Twitter: AshleighCondonX Insta: AshleighCondonX

We Found a Shadow In the midst of it all, This waiting room, my life, Comes a dark man, disrupts me with a call and says, “We’ve found a shadow. I wish I could say more.” And he dumps me with that. 60 on a school road; hit and run. This is what it’s like to jump down a well after dropping a stone and you don’t hear a splash. Give me water, solid ground. I hang up the phone, the spreadsheets hold their breath. I go home early, wait for my letter. This waiting room, my life.

MRI I know they’ve seen a shadow but, how big is the shadow exactly? I’m laying flat beneath a foam cage, in front of a ring-doughnut the size of a Ford KA. It is centred with the abyss. They slide me in like a pizza. After it’s over, their faces will tell me that they’ve seen something nasty, but they can’t tell me yet because they just take the pictures. For now I’m wearing headphones while the magnets attack. The songs rattle in my ears like bats in a calamity of saucepans.

A Dazzling Cat’s Cradle As my mum walks away, she watches me. She’s mapping my face. In her eyes there’s a woman watching a storm brewing from a cliff-edge. She’s preparing for sorrow; she’s the drizzle in rain. Counts my freckles, the bumps in my nose. Etching this moment while she can in case I don’t wake up from surgery. It’s a real possibility; I’m etching her too. We are two mirrors firing electric beams of love. They bounce off every surface. We make a dazzling cat’s cradle down a long corridor.

Rescuers I’ve never been lucky in love, That’s a blood-deep fact. But I’m looking at this man who’s going to open me up. He’s going to feel me deep inside; see the beating of my heart. He’s going to lull me to sleep and keep me there, suspended in the void, where nothing can hurt me. He’ll cradle my kidney like a bird’s egg. He says he wants to fix me, and he means it. He believes in me. Intense blue eyes beneath a green scrub cap. A bright smile, slightly crooked tooth. Strong, hairy forearms, hands like a woman. Is it any wonder we fall in love with our rescuers?

The Surgeon He’s 5”5 and mostly brain. He’s got minds in his fingertips. They feel blindly. Independent. Heat-seeking. They do all the work and he calculates. Captured his craft in Mumbai and brought it to England. A rare leopard for the British museum. The scrubs watch in awe as he cauterises, stems the flow. Eight hours on his feet. Jokes about his ‘immense skill’ without cracking a smile. A dry sense of humour. Doesn’t seek applause. That’s another out the door. Next!

Surgery Haikus Epidural The Doc numbs my spine. I bend over a pillow “Like a grumpy cat”.

Lights out “I’m gonna fight it.” Two docs share a knowing look. They smile; I drift off.

Waking up “Oh hell, I feel sick” I turn in time to throw up Doc: “Wow, she meant it.”

Recovery room My head’s in a vice. Ask, “Why is that man screaming?” Doc: “Anaesthetic.”

Mutual Respect Behold: the welcome distraction of physical pain. By all means, tug when I move. Make my eyes water. Don’t make it easy. Bend me double. I’ll curl up small. Let this agony dwarf the turmoil of my recent past. Condense it to a stone that I can kick under the couch. I can grapple with this one; We’ve a mutual respect, the stitches and I. Heartbreak gut-punches on the count of ‘2’. You know where you stand with a scalpel.

Intensive Care Sticky, clammy sheets. Prickly skin. Heady morphine. My parents’ faces. A nurse strokes my hair, sprays something cold on my belly. My bed breathes; inflates, deflates. I’ve a tube in my neck, my side. I’m tipped upside-down to remove the one in my nose. They say it’s “like a long bogey”, and they’re not wrong. I start noticing things. A family cries in the corner. They surround a sleeping man. The eldest shuffles towards me, explains they were fleeing ISIS. He says a prayer over my body, asks Allah to heal me fast. He says his son may never wake up, but, he’s praying every day.

Hospital Juice It looks like my catheter bag but it is nectar in a cup. What a treat to peel off the foil lid and gulp it back like an oyster. Let the syrup settle in my belly Let it warm up my stitches, keep them soft That sweet smack of sugar gives my tongue a lusty zap. I can walk a flight of stairs on that. I can do laps of the ward on that, easy. Give me my apple juice.

Rugby Nurse In she comes to take my blood. With a vicious tug she uncrosses my ankles; says I’m at risk of clots. She does this one-handed; a bear in a white tunic. Shoulders set for a tackle. Steady blue eyes. We’re talking no-nonsense. She could shot-put a rhino. I absently cross my ankles. She roars across the bay. I don’t do it again. She asks if I’m bored. I say, ‘I don’t know.’ Next thing, I’m stuffing pillows into starched linen cases.

Foreign Nurses All these foreign nurses coming over here, giving their love. Foreign nurses call you ‘dear’, even when they’re younger than you are. Foreign nurses miss their mums, and still sing while they flannel your back. You’re a babe in their arms. Your parents are Spanish and Filipino. Tears will sting your eyes in years to come, when you feel all alone, and your mind drifts to them. You’ll long for soft brown hands. You’ll ache for sunny green eyes. You’ll wish you were sick again. Ask me how I know.

The Fathers When it’s time to go home my surgeons present at the foot of my bed. Two priests at the altar. My dad shakes their hands. A communion wafer, the sign of the cross. They’re regal, chosen. A halogen glow around their heads. “You can go now, my child. We’ve excised your sin and collected it in green tissue.” It’s my offering. It’s all I’ve got.

Trophy Tumour I make a cantaloupe melon with my hands, splayed fingers. Delight in their widening eyes as I say, “That’s how big it was.” Like it’s a carp or a prized marrow, though I had no real part in it. “Eight pounds, like a baby. It’s in a lab somewhere now.” I tell them there’s just something about growing your own, and ask “Would you like to see a picture?”

Thank you for reading my chapbook. If you’d like to contact me, please write to me at AshleighCondon@live.co.uk

Copyright © AC 2021