Editor’s Choice 5

Crazy Days 1 by Carole Coates

All the poems in Carole’s pamphlet Crazy Days deal with the episode when her husband suffered from auto-immune encephalitis, with its resulting loss of memory and disorientation. The poems are movingly written and capture with candour, compassion and wit these difficult and frightening events and their effect on the lives of them both.

The poem I’ve chosen is in fact the first poem in the pamphlet, ‘Crazy Days 1’. As a poem about recovery coming at the beginning of the sequence, it hints at what the protagonists have been through and what the reader has yet to encounter, but makes it clear at the outset that they survive, the crazy days are in the past.

Crazy Days 1

How many beds you say
how many beds have we slept in?

 now that you remember I sleep elsewhere
and like redbush tea in the morning
but you can’t remember why I left the big bed
in the crazy days
when you cried out about the hole, the great pit
in the bed, scrambling out of the way for fear of falling.
You could feel the sharp edge of it
smell the cold airs drifting up
so we changed places but you worried that I would fall
down the chasm you’d discovered so I went away
to the attic room

and thought about, though you could not, our first bed –
under the window that looked to the orchard
and I knelt on the bed and watched you walking
among apple trees in an autumn so still that the leaves
hung quiet as fruit and you cupped your hand
round a small brown russet but did not pick it
because you’ve always kept all the rules
as if it would help, as if it would do you good.

Now the chasm is closing and you come upstairs
with a tray of tea and creep into bed with me
and we prop ourselves on elbows and look at each other
and sometimes we talk about love.

 

What strikes me initially about this poem is the combination of honesty and restraint, a restraint which carries an emotional charge, as in the matter-of-fact quality of the last line.

I enjoy the way the opening question, engaging and intimate, leads in to the description of fears and illusions which resulted in separate beds, which in turn moves on to the touching recollections of the first bed. The image of the dark pit is vivid and disturbing, but the reader is rescued by the recollection of the orchard in the next stanza. Its last two lines: ‘because you’ve always kept all the rules/ as if it would help, as if it would do you good’ arrive as an oblique comment on the arbitrary nature of illness.

It is a poem full of the particular and believable, totally grounded. As with all the poems in this pamphlet, the subject matter is difficult and distressing, but the poem itself moving and easy to read, the lines clearly following units of sense and the pauses of natural speech. To me this is an example of how an accomplished piece of writing can take personal difficulty and make it art.

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