INDIGO DREAMS PUBLISHING LTD
GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2021
Cover image by Tom Higgins
138 x 216mm
£9.50 + P&P UK
Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize 2020
“The nurse-poet has a particular point of view: investigating everyday sadness with a nursing eye and observing our brokenness with the heart of a poet. This collection of poems startles, challenges, consoles. Part recognition of human fragility, part celebration of our bloody-minded persistence, Beda Higgins can skewer your heart even as she holds it safe. Wonderful.”
"A stunning collection. I loved the poems about nursing. It is the year to explore links between poetry and medicine and Higgins does it so well. There are poems here about nurse-training,
about cancer and caring for the dying but also wonderful poems about anorexia, motherhood, even domestic violence. Beautiful.
“Beda Higgins’ debut collection is pulsing with life. These accomplished poems of hospital wards, loss and the compensations of love are told with clear-sightedness and compassion. Partly inspired by a career in nursing, ‘Ourselves’ brings us the everyday in all its enormity, mundanity and beauty in poems that will resonate widely.”
I HAVE A QUESTION
Can I put my geraniums out?
Or do I have to wade through appointments and
Phone messages: My call is important to them.
Can I steal my hidden cache of dormant roots
Dip fingers in dry peat, sweep cobwebs
And wonder at their twitch of life,
Or do I have to give blood, go to hospital
Wait in stuffy rooms crowded with worry
And look as if I understand what they tell me.
Can I breathe the dusky scent of childhood
My mother pruning with a silly hat on
While I hop, trying to learn how to skip.
I pack a small case and lie on a thin bed
Beginning a twelve-month life-sentence
Imprisoned in treatment and side-effects.
My dreams hibernate in a cool dark place.
I live to tip pots, stroke open veins and
Dig holes in wet soil with bare hands.
WHEN SHE QUALIFIED
She learnt to juggle hours
To listen to ghosts, hear confessions
To pick out nits and sew with dreams.
To patch a memory knit with notions
To be a mouse creeping in cracks
To forage and eat shades of grey.
To be wide-eyed day and night
To beetle hard-shelled, to learn
To love the comfort of cold walls.
To be another face in a sea of faces
To forget what day her birthday is
To be godless but yearn to pray.
HER NAME IS MERCY
Fifteen years old and she wants to be someone.
It’s silent inside, she has nothing to say.
He drinks in her mouth and gropes her dress
For a heart that drowned when they married.
A tight placental membrane binds her;
Family honour ties her arms
And tethers her legs.
She takes short dainty steps – no cracks on show.
Hearing freedom whispered she runs –
Skin on sweaty skin, the can shut tight.
Breathing others’ breath, she prays ‘til they prize
The tin open and peel her out like a clam.
Down a dark stairwell on a line of mattresses
Marinated in vodka and dished up on stained sheets
They sniff to check she’s still fresh.
At sixteen, she knows she is no one.
Beda Higgins is a multi-published and award winning author and poet. She has two short story collections published: ‘Chameleon’ was a Read Regional Recommendation and ‘Little Crackers’, which includes a first prize winning Mslexia short story, was longlisted for the Frank O’ Connor Award. Both were
long-listed for the Edgehill Prize.
Beda is a general and psychiatric nurse, and is a recipient of two Queen’s Nursing Institute Awards.
I was taken behind drawn curtains
To witness a strange ceremony.
‘African admission of no fixed address’
A blocked bed. He was stripped naked.
Watch and learn nurse:
Sponge with soap and water
Dry and plug the orifices, fix the teeth
Close and fasten the shroud.
I saw his dark skin iced white in freesia talc
His body rolled unknown in stiff grey paper
Knotted and tied as a cut of butcher’s meat.
Here, he was not only dead: he was lost.
Take a mindo seed from our secret place
I’ve hidden it, exactly where it always was
Behind the pantry door. Be gentle it’s delicate
Squeeze the leaves and smell the sea.
In a bite of salty breath, remember the care
Of your mother teaching you to cook
Instead of swim.
When you forget, smells can help
To remember our good moments.
Copy me again, these swollen joints;
Don’t squash the mindo, you’ll lose us
We’ve already been lost too long.
The bite should taste of the earth before sunset
Trickling evening shade warm and sleepy.
Lick your lips before dark closes on my kitchen,
When you feel ready, please eat.
Learn a new way to swim.
The shop lady knocks, she is posh with pearly lipstick
Her Botox arrow eyebrows shoot alarmingly high
Mavis likes to see that life is full of surprises.
She has thirty pence left for a last supper
And lifts her pin-cushioned puffed hand
Bruised and battered from the battle
To point at the Flake: it’s been years.
She sits and shakily unwraps her treasure
Finger over bumps and smells the small log
Carefully collecting splinters that drop.
Her bloated pumpkin face shines
Grateful for the small gifts she has left.
When I was little I was given a black dolly.
She had a blue maid’s outfit, white shiny eyes
And the packet said: with golly hair.
Cindy and Barbie sneered hard plastic, and no
Matter how I arranged and sorted the toy box
– Golden and thin, they wouldn’t let her be.
My first ward; all the cleaners were black.
And in every face
The truth I’d seen in her eyes, was blinking back