The Wide White Bed Trish Harris Landing Press 2017
Trish Harris spent eight weeks in the Orthopaedic Ward at Hutt Hospital as people – visitors and patients – came and went about her. Someone brought her a journal and that became both her private room and the subsequent resource for My Wide White Bed.
The poetry is airy, with acute observations, luminous things, and an awareness of community experience rather than a single perspective. It is immensely readable; I gobbled it in a flash, loving the sweetly crafted lines, the wit and the reflection.
The sequence comprises untitled poems that begin with the idea of a ship:
The hospital sails
like a tall ship
down the crease of the valley.
I am stabilised
laid out on a wide white bed
head facing east.
The book struck such a cord with me because it took me right back into the thick of hospital stays where intimacy thresholds dissolve, discomfort displaces comfort and walls and windows are unsteady.
This is not a bitter grim read but an essential read in the light of the current state of hospital care. The politics are subtle and various:
as elderly women with
they are the strong ones
caring for senile husbands
They come to this place
for a rest.
Trish pulls us into the lives of others as much as she exposes her own story, and that is what elevates the reading experience. Names are changed but the dialogue, the situations and the revelations sound out as vital human truths. This is poetry of connection, of empathetic relations in tough circumstances. Single lines glow:
Merle is doing crosswords.
That’s why she buys the newspaper.
At home her husband grows daisies and dementia.
The book should be in the drawers beside every hospital bed, and in the gift shop, because the book, like the boat with the wind in its sails, is an astonishing uplift. Plus I recommend placing a journal and pen in bedside drawers, so patients can open up their own privates rooms to write or doodle windows and doors and secret sails.
Then again pick up this book for a wet Sunday and savour the rewards. I love it.
All night long I ease
the white blanket over shoulder
across belly and over hip
dreaming of transformation.
In the morning the nurse says
You look like a cocoon.
I smile. The covers bulge
with antennae buds and
the scratching of wings.
©Trish Harris The Wide White Bed
Trish Harris has a BA of Applied Arts (Creative Writing) from Whitireia New Zealand. She has worked with words – editing, writing, creating and tutoring – for over thirty years. In 2016, Escalator Press publisher her memoir, The Walking Stick Tree. Her poetry has appeared in various journals.