Hymn to the Amazons in Ward 36

Catherine Ayres

Under skittish strips of light
we are a line of sallow fools,
panda-eyed with weak tea and waiting.
Our lives crawl round these chairs
like the fat babies we will never have.
Let them suckle skirting; we have no breasts
left, only thin smiles, red lips grazing gauze.
Don't worry, we know it's not alright.
There are no soft dawns in us now,
no platitudes scribbled over peach skies.
Hands off, we're hairless dolls, cocked heads
hooked on the clock hands, looping our veins
through a circle of skipped beats. It is best
to stare out time alone. There are bulbs
in our hearts, my darlings, scales cupping
fresh skin. Soon we will push our crowns through
spreading hands, nod praise to a different sun.
We don't know it yet but these days will writhe
free, fall as quiet as carrier bags kissing concrete.

Catherine Ayres

Catherine says: "I didn't know Julia Darling, but she is very important to me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 aged 39. At that time, I hadn't discovered poetry but during my treatment I started to read it, then write it, partly as a way of making sense of everything.

About a year after I finished treatment, I went to a poetry surgery with Colette Bryce and she asked me if I'd ever read Julia's poems. I bought Sudden Collapses in Public Places, read it in one go and then bawled for a bit. I felt as if someone had written down everything that was in my head. I also realised that Julia had been to the same place for her treatment - the Northern Centre for Cancer Care - and had probably undergone chemo in the same ward as me. Her poems made me feel less alone. They also made me realise that I could voice my own experiences and that it would help me to do this. I thank her for that every day.

This poem is a tribute to all the women I know who have undergone chemotherapy. It is in memory of Soraya Copley who was very special to many of us.

Next year, Indigo Dreams is publishing Amazon, my first collection. This is one of the poems from the book.

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Hymn to the Amazons in Ward 36 © 2015 Catherine Ayres: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.