Week 261: Casehistory: Alison (head injury), by U.A.Fanthorpe

Ursula Fanthorpe (1929-2009) studied English language and literature at Oxford and went on to teach it for sixteen years at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, but then abandoned teaching to work as a clerk and receptionist at a Bristol hospital. This is a good example of the poems that came out of that experience: compassionate without sentimentality, and admirably rooted in real life.

Casehistory: Alison (head injury)

(she looks at her photograph)

I would like to have known
My husband’s wife, my mother’s only daughter.
A bright girl she was.

Enmeshed in comforting
Fat, I wonder at her delicate angles.
Her autocratic knee

Like a Degas dancer’s
Adjusts to the observer with airy poise,
That now lugs me upstairs

Her face, broken
By nothing sharper than smiles, holds in its smiles
What I have forgotten.

She knows my father’s dead,
And grieves for it, and smiles. She has digested
Mourning. Her smile shows it.

I, who need reminding
Every morning, shall never get over what
I do not remember.

Consistency matters.
I should like to keep faith with her lack of faith,
But forget her reasons.

Proud of this younger self,
I assert her achievements, her A levels,
Her job with a future.

Poor clever girl! I know,
For all my damaged brain, something she doesn’t:
I am her future.

A bright girl she was.


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