Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Aids To Practical Nursing
(For Joyce Parkin, January 24, 1949,
King Edward VII Hospital, Rivelin)

by Rachel J. Fenton

We sit at small tables drinking tea from bone
China cups with biscuits perched on plates; flat,

as hedgehogs, as easy to swallow, and remember
Sister Rose who never lost a baby in all her career.

Curious, I'd stand on the next to bottom stair
and stare at myself in the mirror; the blue pill

I could never get to fit, no matter how I perched it.
Takes more than a hat to make a midwife, she'd say.

I'd tag along on visits anyway: wait in the car, hold
her black book, the diary with the fresh ones in bold,

red ribboned, and pass the bag with miracles and all
the nurse's kit inside, and into this she'd add pink

cards with each new baby's signature stamped in red,
written with heeling. Other times, when not on call,

we'd stay indoors and from the sideboard, an expanse
of teak, she'd take scrap paper, pens, biros mostly,

(not one chewed lid) and pencils brightly coloured
on the outside but everyone drew grey. One memory,

always with the smell of raspberry buns, fresh baked,
hard to get down without a sup o' tea, was a great pink

rubber (not erasers in those days). It was years before
I realised it was shaped as a giant pill, and all the paper
printed on one side with type-faced notes. I must have drawn
a zillion kingdoms, cottages and fairies, horses, flowers,

or scribbled poems; ancient Greeks meant nothing
to me then. Each time I made a mistake I'd take the pill

and erase. And when the buns were cool enough to eat,
we'd sit at the table after raising up a leaf and we'd talk

about my drawings: she'd ask what I wanted to be;
always I looked out the window: azalia forest flame.

Out of habit, I said midwife, what I meant was to be her:
Sister Rose, my grandmother, who never lost a baby

in all her career, who worked herself out of poverty but lost
a limb to cancer in the former workhouse of Fir Vale.

It took a few attempts for me to work out I was meant to
write all along. I write in pen: red; I find mistakes are best

left in. I'm not sure where the rubber went, I've never seen
another like it, they aren't made that way today; Sister Rose

who knew nothing healed better than kindness
with ears, raspberry buns and a nice cup of tea.


  1. This gave me chills. Like good poetry does. Beautiful.

  2. Good one! They reckon a real work of art leaves you changed slightly after you've encountered it. This had that effect on me.

  3. Thank you, Dominic, that's really good to know.

  4. Do you ever record audio versions? I'd quite like to hear it/

  5. I recorded a reading of "Inherited" - the poem shortlisted for the Uni of Maine's Ultra Short Comp. I was thinking I should put something else with my voice on - one as I speak and one dialect, maybe...