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?
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
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
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.
The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by Unity Books.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.