Under a ceiling of claw-marked polystyrene tiles
I am surrounded by four white doves
four white-haired women waiting to die,
four widows that have outlived their husbands, unharnessed from hearts
and puddle-dipped into hospital beds like melting snowmen with wrinkles.
Glucose drips; vacant stares and fresh juice from the next of kins,
woken from stealth-sleep with pin-pricks, a brittle but permeable strap,
flush and fluids, the beeping recesses of machines too cruel and cardiac even for me.
I avoid their reverent swoops and secular breath that stains the ward sterile black,
my veins so blue here I am convinced it is ink not blood steering under my skin.
I am febrile and fever-some and they are glass milk bottles curdling to cream,
as dangerous as paraffin, as sinister as the coroners' broken megaphone.
Just before midnight a nurse made of rubber slides her palm for electricity,
erases everything she crosses, the same way a blizzard wipes out landscape
tosses it beyond the retina splaying an invisible hand of cards
and smears it into disappearance like a well-practiced seasonal magic trick.
Each woman is now lit under spotlight as if suddenly they are on stage,
playing a part in a Surreal Nativity. I am opposite Agnes who loudly demands sleep,
swats the bulb with her out-stretched wing, exits through the trapdoor of her mattress
to let the dark envelope her head like a costume wig, starched for its flamboyancy.
I am the one coffin-placed testing the palette shades of my postmortem make-up
each hand laying across a lung, crowning my chest too soon for the royalty of feathers.
A rectangle window defies curtains and projects an installation of shadow-twigs
across the wall above her bed – sometimes the branches dance,
other times they do not waver at all, depending on the opinion of the wind.
I am sepia-scented, the climate of death on my tongue like oxidized mercury,
while they all snore through matching oxygen masks into sonorous ether
with soft wheezy gasps like premature newborns in transparent cots.
Their platitudes of grief reserved by a peace through pain that only age can spring,
despite dementia slowly wrapping around ankles like in-disposable litter,
as if every dream now is selected only from a reel of fondest memories
backed by the symphonic overture of those comforting sentiments of the past
– the slow sincere waltz of life played back to us in colour.