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featured poet, Merryn Williams

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On the Tideline

Slowly, he came round.
He knew this was the Intensive Care Unit, but he’d been dreaming
of sixty years back, walking Yarmouth sands with his father,
who’d told him about Newton,
the discovery of light, how the seven colours
blend into white at last, and of how he had said:
I seem to myself to have been like a boy playing
next to the sea, picking up some bright shell or pebble
while before me the mighty ocean lay unexplored.

Three doctors sat round his bed.
They introduced themselves as specialists, so he knew
this was crunch time. One said:
‘Good afternoon, Mr Smith.
A scientist, aren’t you? Yes, a distinguished scientist.
Four days we’ve been reducing your medication
so you can understand what’s going on. It isn’t
good news, unfortunately. If we end the treatment
now, you will die. If we continue, you will
still die, some weeks or months from now. It would mean
kidney machines, exhaustion, a long struggle
and no good outcome. What do you wish us to do?’
Next to the German Ocean, his father had told him
the shells he liked to pick up were the hard casing
of creatures that lived in the sand or rocks, whose bodies
were washed out by the sea when they died. There is no God –
he thought – but I can cope with that. How the old man –
a parson, had grieved when he had made the decision
to follow truth step after logical step. He said:
‘I prefer to die now, when I’m in control. Please take
that oxygen mask; it will not be needed’. The February light dribbled away.
The grandchildren came in,
in tears, prepared to argue. The girl, in particular, looked
like him. He thought, ‘I’ll walk into the darkness
open-eyed, the colours will not be lost, the atoms
regroup themselves.’ ‘I am leaving’, he said, and turned
to the ocean.

Merryn Williams

first published in Magma 28, Spring 2004;
in collection The First Wife’s Tale, 2006,
Shoestring Press, ISBN 978-1-9048864-6-4