‘Coconuts in the Cardiac Ward’
In his TLS review of Lawrence Sail’s Waking Dreams: New and selected poems (2010), John Greening suggested that Sail is drawn to “alignments and geometries: maize . . . beach pebbles . . . snooker balls” – and, as we can see in the poem this week, coconuts. “Snooker Players”, one of Sail’s best-known poems, also reveals his gift for turning meticulous detail to fine allegorical account (“tenderly God in white gloves / Retrieves each fallen planet with love”). This is an aspect of his poetry that Sail addresses explicitly in his poem “The Whole Caboodle” (from The Quick, 2015): “the true wonder of the whole caboodle / can only be descried, perhaps . . . / in the clear and living detail / . . . always to hand/the rich articulations of the word rising clear / of dust”.
Reviewing an earlier Selected Poems, Out of Land (1992), Don Paterson said that “given the candour of his voice, Sail’s avoidance of the sentimental seems at times miraculous”, and went on to suggest that his success in this respect was thanks in part to his exemplary handling of verse forms, perfect line lengths and “beautifully defined stanzas”. But what is also remarkable is Sail’s ability to find such natural openings from the everyday into an almost religious compassion. In “Coconuts in the Cardiac Ward”, first published in the TLS in 2009, “a single line sung / happily in his sleep” by “the eighty-three-year-old builder / in the next-door bed” drops miraculously into the darkening hospital – and into the poem – its nearly unbearable “rich articulations”.
Coconuts in the Cardiac Ward
Hospital more or less darkness, and all
with a one way or another faulty heart,
laid out in a row
Finally, with someone’s nebuliser off,
and the voice shouting No! from a side-room giving up,
more or less quiet
And then, from the eighty-three-year-old builder
in the next-door bed, a single line sung
happily in his sleep –
There they are, all standing in a row –
and yes, somehow they are, cupped awry
in their red and white holders
Various as humans, and each hairy fruit
at the mercy, its white milk cocooned in the night
like a long-held hope.
LAWRENCE SAIL (2009)
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