Week 71: Illness, by Molly Holden

I thought this one might make an interesting comparison with last week’s poem on the theme of illness by Heinrich Heine. A very different sensibility is at work here, one that takes its bearings from the natural rather than the social world, and that seems to me fully to justify that overworked epithet ‘exquisite’.


Poetic justice is imperfectly exemplified in me
who, as a child, as a girl, was persuaded that
I felt as earth feels, the furrows in my flesh,

buttercups curdling from my shoulder blades,
was what I saw. The rain would fall as pertinent on me
as on the lichens on the flint-embedded wall.

I had always a skin too few, identified
with sun-hot blossom on the far side of the road,
felt beneath my own warm envelope of flesh

the foreign winter that calcined the delicate
bones of the organ-grinder’s shuddering monkey.
A ploughed field poniarded my chest.

So now it seems a wry desert that youthful
ecstasies, my earthly husks of joy,
should be so turned about by this disease

that feels like mist upon my fingers, like
a cold wind for ever against my body, and
air and chill earth eternally about my bones.

Molly Holden


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