Three Poems for Jane

1. Magnum Opus

Our mother's voice along the line,
abrupt and inarticulate ("Jane's in hospital")
unlocks remorse for months of unpaid visits,
unwritten letters, unmade telephone calls
to match the guilt she's known
since the unexpected last of her four children
arrived blue-lipped and breathless,
bearing a magnum opus of a disease.

FALLOT'S TETRALOGY (according to Dorland)
is a combination of congenital cardiac defects
consisting of (1) pulmonary stenosis,
(2) interventricular septal defect,
(3) dextroposition of the aorta
so that it overrides the interventricular septum
and receives venous as well as arterial blood
and (4) right ventricular hypertrophy.
In and out of hospital all her life,
schooled with the lame, the backward and misshapen
but a party animal, a boon companion,
a skinhead girl marrying into twins,
she has broken every record for survival
and still keeps coming back, each time less far,
to a shrinking radius of independence
inside the front door a folding wheelchair;
close to her hand a cylinder of oxygen.
PULMONARY STENOSIS: a narrowing of the opening
between the pulmonary artery and the right ventricle.
A family unskilled at communication,
we meet as strangers in a foreign country
where having ordered meals and asked directions
we have exhausted our philosophy,
the television on in every room
levelling out the gaps in conversation
as awkward siblings, carapaced like crabs,
half-conscious of the dynamite and bullets
that Quartermaine explodes across the screen,
dance tipclaw sideways through the killing fields.
OVERRIDING AORTA: a congenital anomaly
occurring in the Tetralogy of Fallot,
in which the aorta is displaced to the right
so that it appears to arise from both ventricles
and straddles the ventricular septal defect.
Once at Christmas she and I and her husband
sat getting steadily drunker on neat whisky
until she dragged us down to her armchair
head to head in a clumsy triple embrace,
whispering through malt tears: "Look after each other."

The medical definitions are based on those in Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 27th Edition, 1988, (pages 108, 1580, 1701), the publisher, W B Saunders & Co (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.) Their permission to quote is gratefully acknowledged.

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© Brian Fewster,
Published in Envoi 123, 1999

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