They gave us statistics in the morning,
topographies of adolescent cancer.
Landmarks of suffering were mere microdots on a map;
graphs ascended survival, (mortality shaded out),
scaled down to so few per fall-out of reprieve,
so few, when our wards contained so many,
brothers, sisters, not much younger than ourselves.
Mortality glared round the door after lunch,
brushed past us to the platform,
sat down amongst the flowers and curtains.
A chaplain stood up to speak,
outside a song thrush warbled,
led us back to our wards, dimming the lights,
to the Botticelli girl who collected china cats,
(fauve-eyed repositories of sorrow for a bedroom shrine);
or to the glittering boy, who’d still win,
(if he logged it all in a diary they’d find);
to beds we should sit on, waiting for sleep not to come,
a hug the slightest touch away.
The bird went quiet, filling the hall with silence.
The chaplain sat down.
Moving out of the curtains, a mother and father spoke,
erected before us a house of hope for a child:
windows to walk past without a shudder,
sills for china cats, a garden for a warbling bird.
The glare had softened to a primrose smile.
We had taken no notes, but our training was complete.