The Plunge


Grace is the law of the descending movement.
– Simone Weil

A cry bursts like a wing-beat:

among clicks and whirrs of language
your voice comes and goes.
Scraps from a hospital bed.

Is this our destination?
It’s called a journey,
but you’re not looking for something –
don’t want to arrive
in the cubicle dark
at the end
beyond the night-lit corridor.

At dusk, a mist rises from the river.
The green ball
in the drip-feed
lets only a little

We’re going to the very edge,
to the darkness
where windows float their little boats.

Your illness is a kind of pact;
to bear it
is to bear even death
in this name – love.

Past midnight, I lean against the wall
to let the trolley pass.
It’s always the same face on display,
twin cheekbones raising the skin
like tent poles,
your nostrils
with the promise of air.

This is the river we dream about and dread.

Once, we saw an eel
caught by a heron,
the bird drinking it down
as if it were a black river.

Listen –

rippling polished lino, here it comes,
the wound
in the corridor’s throat –
your shout
bursting the darkness open.

The giant listening on my tongue
with the sound,
I walk a corridor
as if there were something to count,
as if tiles spelt clues
or numbers:
they slide away
behind me.

Even as I tighten my hold
you’re disappearing.
You telescope into your own black centre.

Is this it?
All the love-feast
this salty

The loneliness of your naked body
before the doctors and their equipment
uncovers me;
I feel the river’s long
cold on my skin –

As you become unknown
even to yourself,
going on ticking and beating into the unknown
where you fight or yield, obey –
as oxygen detonates your lungs,
the catheter
milks your bladder –
or drown.

Is anything beautiful
left in the world?

You’ve placed fear on my finger,
ringed river-bird.

Draw the curtain.
Beds fill, empty and fill.
Is there any music to justify this?

Take me back to the midsummer river
hidden under brush –
that trickle of meaning.

Your fear
and mine
makes a verse with no answer.

Knee, hip, shoulder:
in the window’s mirror
at the body
floating up
to the surface of night.

from Common Prayer (Carcanet , 2007), © Fiona Sampson 2007, used by permission of the author and Carcanet Press Ltd

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