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Eleanor Hooker – Lifeboat

P Eleanor Hooker LE P&W Vol 2 2019

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Poems by Eleanor Hooker

Eleanor Hooker is an Irish poet and writer. Her third poetry collection is due for publication in 2020. She has poems forthcoming in Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry magazine, Winter Papers and Pratik. She is a winner of the autumn 2019 Poetry Society Members Poems competition, and recently shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and commended in the Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year 2019. Eleanor is a helm on the Lough Derg RNLI lifeboat. She began her career as a nurse and midwife. For more details visit Eleanor’s website www.eleanorhooker.com


Lifeboat

         for Robert Spier, i.m. Jean Spier

We drop anchor off Vikings Landing,
run engines astern ‘til Elsinore holds fast
due east of Inis Cealtra. Against standing
waves, and wind that harps the masts
pitched in the harbour – crew name land in sight,
list the ways of water, recount Ophelian acts that bore
us to the lake’s darkest stage, and, in failing light,
as a low mist rolls over the Hare, and hounds rain before
a squall, we weigh anchor and make for home one final time
in Elsinore, grateful for a new Atlantic to this inland sea –
no longer will we fear the fog’s fret, that mimes
a snow-blind clime inside our eyes, now, when we leave the quay,
four up, our Jean Spier will signal those in peril, or in strife,
that we her volunteers may do our work – carry home, save a life.

Because laughing with a dead man really is infectious

With one eye looking at you the other looking for you,
he startled me when he ate the lit end of his cigarette.
All I did was ask for the keys to the dug-out.
Night Sister said he was odd, this man,
the Porter, and not to linger. Another night
he set the scene before he locked me
in the morgue for near two hours.
Me – barely eighteen and up from the country –
he drew the screens round all the curtained
spaces, so tagged big toes would fidget
at the man laid out inside his coffin,
he opened the door to the cutting room,
switched the light so I could see the charred
and terrifying remains of a burned woman,
arms outstretched, an awkward W
on the dissecting table, then hit the master
switch with that image repeating itself
inside the dark, inside my head.
I heard the bolt and realised he’d left
me there. I sat curled up inside the door,
afraid to shout lest I should waken the dead;
there were lots nearby, ‘twas a bitter winter.
“What class of a jackeen fucker
is that eh, to lock you in a place like this
and the night that’s in it. ‘Tis freezing in here
so it is. You alright girleen ógeen?” the man said,
sitting up, resting his elbows on the sides
of his coffin. I explained how I’d gone mad
briefly, imagining I was conversing with a dead
man sitting up inside his coffin. He laughed
a great Kerry laugh and I laughed too, because laughing
with a dead man sitting up inside his coffin
really is infectious. He caught my anxious glance
at the cutting room door, still ajar. Told me the poor
girleen nearby would not come out. He would speak
for the ten of them, (the one we brought earlier,
still struggling to the other side, didn’t count),
and would keep me company ‘till they came
and got me, so I wouldn’t have the life frightened
out of me. By way of small talk, he asked me how
the training went. I’d started on the men’s ward,
I told him, explained how every day Sister asked
me to bathe old men, without their PJs on, in a bath,
how nobody said the name over the bed was the surgeon’s,
not the patient’s and how I’d thought it weird
there were so many Mr. Webb’s on the ward,
how I was having trouble learning off
the nervous system, how the canteen staff shouted
at us poor student nurses, so we were afraid
to eat there, and were hungry all the time,
and losing weight, how Tom Jones was a male nurse
and coming to the ward to work, not sing,
how me and Mags were mugged
outside the GPO and I had £25 stolen, £25
my Dad had given to me to buy my nurse’s cape,
and how I couldn’t tell him now, ashamed as I was,
but really how I’d met some kind people in Dublin,
how determined I was to make a good nurse.
I asked him how he was feeling and we had another round
of laughter when he answered “a bit stiff today”.
He said he wasn’t afraid of going into the ground
because they were taking him back to his home
place by the sea. Unexpectedly he began to sing.
I could hear the wild Atlantic breaking against his lifetime,
could hear the gulls cry out his name, smell sea-salt
on his old brown suit. He stopped after a bit, the singing
made him sad. Eileen a third year, who had taken to
minding me, kept calling me a culchie gobshite.
And I was. But I was learning fast that there were more
than just good and bad people in the world;
there were lots of shades of in between.
Eileen noticed I was gone and came and found me
locked in the morgue. She took me to the dug-out
down the back stairs, made me eat hot soup
and thick brown bread. She told me not to be
a culchie gobshite with tales of the talking dead.


© Eleanor Hooker