Poem for Pallium: A Note from a Visitor
From the room, they drift
seeds; unfamiliar destinations,
lost histories. Yet each has the weight
of an ocean in their eyes.
The pains of others are
that I can’t begin to describe.
In the final two weeks of January, I spent a little time with Pallium as part of my PhD research. As this came to a close, it was mentioned that visitors usually contribute a blog post. To the promise of being taken out for chai as a reward, was added the note that this contribution could take any form. ‘Blog post, eight-line poem, even a song!’ I was told. Well, how could I refuse?
Before launching into an explanation of my potentially ill-advised attempt, I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the organisation. From the music on the morning bus (Udta Punjab and a song about cats were both highlights) to the warmth and generosity of the staff, it has been one of the most pleasurable periods of my research.
But one afternoon, a patient died.
I was working just outside their room with a couple of others. A woman whose shoulders were hunched in grief came out through the doors and sat beside us. A young child stroked her hair. Those with whom I have worked, despite their good humour, know the gravity of their roles. For me, it was a timely reminder.
As the essayist Elaine Scarry (on whom the poem draws) once noted, pain destroys language. In the face of this however, I took up the throw-away invitation to write a poem for Pallium. I have tried to capture something of that moment, and the idea that language is aligned rather haphazardly to the experience of physical and emotional suffering. It was only after a lot of wrangling that I reached the modest target of eight lines!