These poems are an intimate meditation on love and loss, told by a daughter as she cares for her mother through terminal mesothelioma. The poet invites the reader to be witness to the private moments of dying, from the physical reality of caregiving through to the alchemy of death, telling the story of a relationship between women that is transformed through grief. Honest, unsentimental, and quietly uplifting.
Published by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd. (August 2020)
“A beautiful, gentle, honest and heartbreaking work. The love, compassion and tenderness in them gives a quiet, honest hope. The poems are so sensitive, and full of love, but don’t hide from the truth about dying and death. It gives a generous insight into a universal human experience we tend to avoid thinking about because we have no concept of how we could possibly cope. So, maybe it helps us as readers be honest with ourselves?”
The Suede Shoes
after Thich Nhat Hanh
No good news from now
the doctor told us.
The nurse cried.
You did not.
I spend my days on the telephone,
searching for certainties:
names, dates, results,
chasing facts like dandelion wisps,
running out of time.
Sometimes, we talk about death.
Mostly, we talk about hospitals.
Bit by bit, their language claims us.
Meanwhile, the hen scratches
around the tree and the bees
collect nectar from a creeping vine.
The sun finally shines.
This is our in-between
Why bother planting that seed?
Why turn the beds
for a summer that will never come?
Why bother buying the pretty suede shoes?
We choose the shoes because
we can still find joy in a step.
We plant the seed because
we still love the way
it insists itself into life.
We turn the beds because
there will always be a summer,
even after you are gone.
Soon, we shall have only echoes
but for now, we drink tea
and watch the clouds move,
watch the light pass
between the storm
and there is still good news.
Through my mother’s window, days slip by,
moments so small we almost miss them
in our busy lives of dying:
the way the stocks begin to bend,
the first ash to fall, the lowering light.
Soon, the year will turn.
In the darkest days, she cries out
What time is it?
as if knowing can stop the clock.
She sleeps, wakes confused,
not sure if it has been minutes
or days that she’s been gone.
In the morning, we greet the sun
with morphine and birdsong.
It’s another beautiful dawn, I say
but they get harder.
Another one, she says,
eyes turning away.
The last one
and it is just me.
The rain begins.
For many people death is almost a taboo subject, and it is never an easy thing to discuss, but Victoria Bennett does just that, directly and fearlessly. She pulls no punches - the endless waiting, the slow, agonising deterioration of body and mind - even the weight of the separate organs of the body post mortem. And yet, in this powerful collection of poems she strikes right to the heart of the matter, to that mysterious place out of time, where bottomless grief and unimaginable bliss somehow meet - and make us a part of something far greater than our small separate selves.
‘Why did no-one tell me
death felt like this -
an unbearable joy?
You leap from star
to star and then,
you are gone.
The quiet of the dark,
This is poetry at its best. Definitely an experience not to be missed.
This moving pamphlet charts a daughter’s relationship with her mother who is terminally ill with mesothelioma. Victoria Bennett’s poems express the power of her mother’s voice and evoke the palpable chemistry of a unique partnership. I relate closely to them, having supported my own mother through end of life care.
The narrator weaves fears, apprehensions and grief into each poem, building a log of the journey towards death and the mutual experience of letting go.
The poem ‘The New Nightdress’ gives a tender, tactile account of personal care. Phrases such as ‘oil of rose’ and ‘sweetness / of these dying days’ convey the sensory nature of such intimacy. There’s a flower-related thread running through the pamphlet which is emphasised in the poem’s final line — ‘This garden has grown wild’ — suggesting the mother’s release from the nightdress’s hold, from constraint and suffering.
In ‘Words For Dying To’, the poet deftly mixes dreamlike prose with dispersed phrases based on the mother’s own commentary on her physical sensations. We are drawn into gobbets of memory and insights into her personality. It’s a moving interpretation by the daughter as the witness to suffering. Here’s how it starts:
How long have I got
how will I know
will you tell me
when the time comes
We live the moment. Again, I found a personal connection to this poem. Mothers and daughters, duty and devotion entwined.
The tactile is evoked throughout the pamphlet, especially so in ‘There is Always More To Lose’. The slipping into end of life is shown through the progressive loss of physical senses: the voice, intonations, familiar words, body movement, touch. Only the mother’s face pursues the narrator, whispering ‘stop / you are forgetting me’ and enfolding her with ‘threads silver / through my hair’.
Beautiful imagery threaded through with love. A Quaker style quality of truth and contemplation.
(Review by Maggie Mackay -- published in Sphinx Reviews)