My mum is on a high bed next to sad chrysanthemums.
‘Don’t bring flowers, they only wilt and die.’
I am scared my mum is going to die
on the bed next to the sad chrysanthemums.

She nods off and her eyes go back in her head.
Next to her bed is a bottle of Lucozade.
‘Orange nostalgia, that’s what that is,’ she says.
‘Don’t bring Lucozade either,’ then fades.

‘The whole day was a blur, a swarm of eyes.
Those doctors with their white lies.
Did you think you could cheer me up with a Woman’s Own?
Don’t bring magazines, too much about size.’

My mum wakes up, groggy and low.
‘What I want to know,’ she says,’ is this:
where’s the big brandy, the generous gin, the Bloody Mary,
the biscuit tin, the chocolate gingers, the dirty big meringue?’

I am sixteen; I’ve never tasted a Bloody Mary.
‘Tell your father to bring a luxury,’ says she.
‘Grapes have no imagination, they’re just green.
Tell him: stop the neighbours coming.’

I clear her cupboard in Ward 10B, Stobhill Hospital.
I leave, bags full, Lucozade, grapes, oranges,
sad chrysanthemums under my arms,
weighted down. I turn round, wave with her flowers.

My mother, on her high hospital bed, waves back.
Her face is light and radiant, dandelion hours.
Her sheets billow and whirl. She is beautiful. 
Next to her the empty table is divine.

I carry the orange nostalgia home singing an old song.
Jackie Kay

From Jackie Kay, Darling: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2007) 

Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.

Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay was born and brought up in Scotland. She has published five collections of poetry for adults (The Adoption Papers won the Forward Prize, a Saltire Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award) and several for children. She was awarded an MBE in 2006.

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