I’d like you to look at your x-rays

On the sixth floor we’re almost eye level
with three white clouds that have
strayed into the maze
of buildings around Wynberg Hospital.

They’ve no language for
where they’ve been left, lost
above the traffic
and hawkers selling fruit
and taxi drivers we can hear
even from behind the double-glazed windows
of the doctors room.

No one’s forced me here.
I’m free if I wish to catch
– for five rand only –
a ride to
or Cape Town Central Station

If I wanted to I could
take the train to the east coast
disembark at East London
hitch to Transkei.

I’m told long-horned Nguni cattle still bask
on the Wild Coast rocks and
get called back each evening
by barefoot boys in school uniform.

I’ve seen for myself the clouds
that sprawl and slur untranslated
across that sky
beneath which poverty
and death
are quite unremarkable.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and an ideal time for me to post one of my favourite poems from Bev Rycroft’s debut collection missing. Bev is part of a monthly poetry workshop that I attend in Kalk Bay, South Africa. We publicly read together for the first time. I have watched Bev’s poems develop and grow and then converge into her debut collection missing.

I have always admired Bev’s directness, and her unflinching way of dealing with her truth and her life. She is bold and brave in what she says and how she says it. And nothing is sacred: family, children, chemotherapy, surgery, loss of hair, dying, despair and hope. All of these are subjects for her poetry.

I thought that I knew Bev’s poems – that her collection would hold no surprises for me. I was wrong – I have been surprised. Not because I have forgotten poems, how can you forget the lines:

‘dying women should not wear lipstick’ and

‘Through a keyhole in my navel/ they plan to unhook my turncoat ovaries’

(there are many more examples in the collection) but because Bev’s voice remains as fresh and direct as the first time I saw her poetry.

Each time I re-read a poem I find something new, like her descriptions of clouds in I’d like to look at your x-rays (the poem above), and how Walking to school again resonates with meaning at so many different levels.

My favourite lines are from a poem titled It’s difficult to explain: In her cool/ clay-pot palms she/ holds my feet like/ new-laid eggs. For me this is such a powerful image of compassion.

This is definitely a collection you should have on your shelves. It can be purchased at any good bookstore or on-line.

This is what Finuala Dowling had to say about missing:

‘This astonishingly moving debut collection reads compellingly as one complete story. missing covers the archetypal journey from sickness and near-death to transformation and hope. Rycoft wears her exquisite poetic technique lightly – though rich is deftly crafted images, the poems are profoundly inviting, readable, memorable. I could not put it down.’