Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Sridala Swami

HOSPITAL CATALOGUES: CODA

HOSPITAL CATALOGUES: CODA

HOSPITAL CATALOGUES: CODA

This time when we are in casualty he cries
but says nothing; sheds no tears but his shoulders
shake with dry sobs. This is a routine we know
well now: weight, oxygen saturation, x-ray on the way
up, attendant passes, an advance paid. The medicines
the nurses bring, just enough for today and tomorrow.
 
The toilet is always too far away. Tomorrow,
my mother prays tomorrow let him be – She cries
in the bathroom with the shower on, says tears have medicinal
properties. Does she mean therapeutic? (She cannot shoulder
the burden of words in addition to all else.) No way
to keep at bay the one word she dreads. I know
 
the one she is thinking of. I try to avoid it but I know
when I see the doctor promising to discharge him tomorrow
if he will be good today and eat well, that this is one way
to tell us not to hope. What hope when every night he cries
Mudiyalaye! Mudiyalaye! His left shoulder
slanted downward in pain. For that no permitted medicine.
 
No cure: that is what they should tell us. Throw out the medicines—
the inhalers, nebulisers, injections, tablets, sachets. Let his tongue know
the taste of food again! He says to me, “My shoulder
hurts. Can you massage it?” Every day I think, Tomorrow
he will get better. Then: if he can’t get better, let him not get worse. I cry.
At other times, I chant to myself there must be a way.
 
His doctor discharges him, makes sure he gets away.
Later I will thank him for this. As he leaves, his medicine
bag weighs nearly as much as he does. (I exaggerate. A far cry
from the truthfulness I demanded earlier). Everybody knows –
at least, I think they do – that if there is a tomorrow
it is not one that will be pleasant. I dream that night of shoulders
 
carrying a bier and on it, my father. His shoulders,
once so broad they could carry our anxieties lightly, are way
too thin. He is all bones, all skin. What is left for tomorrow
to take? I wake up: it’s 7.30. Time for his medicines.
We turn the light on. I hear the oxygen hiss. I already know
what we will see. I know for certain when I hear her cries.
 
In the days that follow, we cry very little. Our shoulders become broader than before.
We find our own ways to comfort and we know words we didn’t before.
Tomorrow and after, we will avoid hospitals. And hate medicines, as before.
Close

HOSPITAL CATALOGUES: CODA

This time when we are in casualty he cries
but says nothing; sheds no tears but his shoulders
shake with dry sobs. This is a routine we know
well now: weight, oxygen saturation, x-ray on the way
up, attendant passes, an advance paid. The medicines
the nurses bring, just enough for today and tomorrow.
 
The toilet is always too far away. Tomorrow,
my mother prays tomorrow let him be – She cries
in the bathroom with the shower on, says tears have medicinal
properties. Does she mean therapeutic? (She cannot shoulder
the burden of words in addition to all else.) No way
to keep at bay the one word she dreads. I know
 
the one she is thinking of. I try to avoid it but I know
when I see the doctor promising to discharge him tomorrow
if he will be good today and eat well, that this is one way
to tell us not to hope. What hope when every night he cries
Mudiyalaye! Mudiyalaye! His left shoulder
slanted downward in pain. For that no permitted medicine.
 
No cure: that is what they should tell us. Throw out the medicines—
the inhalers, nebulisers, injections, tablets, sachets. Let his tongue know
the taste of food again! He says to me, “My shoulder
hurts. Can you massage it?” Every day I think, Tomorrow
he will get better. Then: if he can’t get better, let him not get worse. I cry.
At other times, I chant to myself there must be a way.
 
His doctor discharges him, makes sure he gets away.
Later I will thank him for this. As he leaves, his medicine
bag weighs nearly as much as he does. (I exaggerate. A far cry
from the truthfulness I demanded earlier). Everybody knows –
at least, I think they do – that if there is a tomorrow
it is not one that will be pleasant. I dream that night of shoulders
 
carrying a bier and on it, my father. His shoulders,
once so broad they could carry our anxieties lightly, are way
too thin. He is all bones, all skin. What is left for tomorrow
to take? I wake up: it’s 7.30. Time for his medicines.
We turn the light on. I hear the oxygen hiss. I already know
what we will see. I know for certain when I hear her cries.
 
In the days that follow, we cry very little. Our shoulders become broader than before.
We find our own ways to comfort and we know words we didn’t before.
Tomorrow and after, we will avoid hospitals. And hate medicines, as before.

HOSPITAL CATALOGUES: CODA

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère