Poetry for the soul
Poetry for the soul

BooksJuly 29, 2016

The Friday poem: “This Poem Is Guaranteed to Awaken a Coma Victim”, by Nick Ascroft

Poetry for the soul
Poetry for the soul

 New verse by Wellington writer Nick Ascroft.




This Poem Is Guaranteed to Awaken a Coma Victim

Is someone you love in a coma? A family member perhaps.

Perhaps a pet.

Perhaps you yourself are in a coma. Perhaps someone is reading

this to you in the hopes of awakening you.


If so they have somewhat jumped the gun

because this is just the sales pitch and preamble and

no one has indicated that they do that. If

having read out that last sentence they are still reading this to you, just


wiggle your big toe to indicate that they should stop.

Or is that difficult owing to the coma?

Your eyelids maybe? No? A subtle fluctuation in the clamminess

of the hand they’re holding patronisingly? Of which,


nothing personal, but when was your last sponge bath?

Typical, though:

coma victims always the last on the rota.

I was in a coma once, well not a coma per se,


but it really felt like it.

That sort of empty echoing nothing on the inside of a coma.

Like being a key from a set of handcuffs dropped into a well.

Like being a sedated dog in the baggage hold of a long-haul flight,


in a locked dog box, just the growling

of the engines filtering through the acepromazine

to one twitching dog ear.

Like being the last page of an ancient book


protected from the ravages of the air

in a metal box

in a hi-tech protective chamber at the basement of a museum.

As I say, not a coma per se, and just a drunken doze,


but one deep and sodden and dark.

Are they still reading aloud? Probably not.

The fact that this poem continues

in the same zippy sales-pitch voice is the doing of your own mind.


You have taken over, extending what once

could have been words read aloud out in the humming light of the real world

into your own addled diatribe of a poem,

or it’s still real words from the other side, but either way


immaterially unguessable

and dull to contemplate.

Why don’t you just wake up?

Many good reasons I suspect. It’s like the joke


about what the comatose patient said to the patient in a semi-vegetative state.

– Don’t be so half-arsed.

Or the one about the woman who, having regained consciousness

after a decade in a coma, was asked what she would most like to do now.


– Well, I haven’t slept in years.

These are the kinds of jokes you will be glad you are in a coma for

and do not have to force out a grunt

masquerading as the appreciation of irony.


You can sleep when you’re dead they say, but you can’t.

You can’t sleep when you’re dead,

you can’t be in a coma when you’re dead, and generally,

to be horribly frank and to risk upsetting


the person who may or may not be reading this to you,

the most likely transition goes from coma not to waking life

but to the nothingness of death, in light of which

a certain attachment to the former variety of nothingness might seem


understandably preferable.

Of course, to even ask if the nothingness of the inside of a coma

is preferable to the other abovementioned nothingness is a non-question.

It is impossible to prefer being dead


because there is no longer a subject to do the preferring.

One could personify your corpse and say that it prefers for instance cheesecake

to jellymeat, but that is not to attribute your corpse the character

of being you. At that stage, you are no longer


and can no longer prefer. It’s a common grammatical error.

In the coma, are you now capable of the act of preferring? That is at least a

viable question. There is a you

who may or may not be capable of preferring,


and the benefit of the doubt would seem at worst charitable.

Do you remember the title of the poem?

It promised to awaken a coma victim. The word ‘guaranteed’

should have alerted you though. Legalese. The slitheriest of languages.


Have I perhaps ‘awoken’ you

in some sense to the truths of living and comas? Or ‘awoken’ you

to the least apt of all metaphors

for the experience of the coma victim?


The indefinite article is another loophole.

The poem is guaranteed to awaken a

coma victim, not necessarily

the one you or your clam-handed reader intend it to awaken.


In fact if one coma victim awakes

anywhere in the world at any time following the existence of this poem

it could never be proven that the poem had no effect on the awakening.

But have a little faith.


The letter of the law is old hat and reserved for poorly

researched television. The spirit of the law triumphs,

and the statement in the title is clear that this poem can be used to awaken

any coma victim.


It is guaranteed to awaken you.

Arise from your slumber! This isn’t living.

Technically it is living. But technicalities be damned like the unseen ads

in the middle pages of the newspaper, or moths into a bedpan!


Blaze open those eyes! Cough out the intubator and wriggle

free of the catheter! Arise! Arise! *

* Poem may take several readings to be fully effective.
* Do not mix poem with other literary-based coma solutions.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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