Measure out, administer.
Katie’s half dribbling, half tiny-bubbling.
She’s laughing (gentle). She’s not swallowing this, tells it
in a viscous mumble, bright red –
to Miss Piggy on her night-top.
A lip froth of light pink. Epilim
is the trademark; the mixer saliva.
Measure out, administer.
A balancing spoonful – red’s liquid thisness accepted
but a no-swallow repeat. The jaws grip.
A slow worrying; the spoon’s dog-stickish.
I’m pulling carefully this side, carefully that.
Katie is teeth. (By the way,
either animals are not animals or we are all animals.)
Her head moves with me:
she seems to know and she seems to No. Eye contact, smiling. Finally
we are free. The spoon looks wiped clean (tight lipped Katie). No,
no swallow. She’s
snorting an avoidance –
turning, turning with a backward shove. The drug-thick syrup still not down.
Now she’s… this way, facing close with a face-full. Her cheeks are puffed up,
pursing, pursing, (drama of the mime), twice tight-lipped. She pouts,
full of it.
She twitch-teases. She
We have both dyed. That’s sis-gusting! (– big little-sister Ellen, suddenly
at my side).
We’re all a crimson speckling (our faces, my peevish glasses).
We are red-spectrum endpapers, delicate, an art house horror clip.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2012. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editors in 2012 were Zoë Strachan and Louise Welsh.
A witty title for a poem that ‘blurts’ the domestic scene incarnadine. Measured out on the page as the Epilim is measured in doses, the movements of the poem are packed with exquisite detail: the medicine spoon ‘dog-stickish’, Katie as she ‘twitch-teases’. At the end the family draws together, ‘big little-sister Ellen’ alongside dad in his ‘peevish glasses’. Under the ‘crimson speckling’ these are the closest of ‘blood relations’.
‘Cocktail Hour’ is a poem about administering a medical syrup to my oldest daughter, Katie, who suffered from epilepsy when she was a child. The medicine, Epilim, suppresses the likelihood of epileptic fits. As readers of Lucky Day will know, she is severely disabled and suffers from the chromosomal disorder known as Angelman’s Syndrome. Although she is now in her late teens, she is mentally and physically closer to nine months old. Unlike many poems, which appear to recall an event and reflect upon it, this poem attempts to fold in reflection while the event itself is happening in front of the reader. Quite a few of the poems in Small World do that – it’s closer to fiction and cinema in that way. For example the appearance of Katie’s little sister towards the end of the poem is a surprise to those in the poem and to those reading it.
I am very interested in how official discourses have limits of expression and that so-called common speech takes up from where those limits terminate: it is not true that everyday speech lacks articulacy. On the contrary, because it is so powerful, so full of meaning, attempts are made to disqualify it. So there is a linguistic battle going on here about medical language – its utility is also its poverty.
In the same way, this is meant to evoke the human in the medical, it is ‘simply’ a family scene, a tribute to the lovely cheekiness of both my daughters (and I hope to cheekiness everywhere!)