The stuffy ground-floor bedroom
at the back of our flat. The bed,
covered with blue Witney blankets
bound with paler blue velvet.
Measles, scarlet fever,
influenza, whooping cough.
The night I tripped over the oilstove
Mother lit to warm the bathroom.
From hip to heel, burning
paraffin splashed. Weeks in bed
under a sort of cradle made
to hold the weight of the blankets off.
Bunches of flowers, orange and red,
climbed the faded papered walls
up to the ceiling. My eyes rolled back
in their sockets, counting the nosegays.
Nightmares under the blankets.
Like sodden tufts of moss
bulging virulently green,
mounting the window ledge
and oozing through the open gap,
sooty spores clogging my
nostrils and mouth, the touch
of velvet would make me scream.
I still sleep under those blankets
(their velvet binding rubbed bare)
the self-same ones I pulled around
my shoulders and hid beneath:
now potent and dangerous
as plague-infected blankets thrown
over the walls of a city besieged,
or exchanged for the sacred land
of people with no more immunity
to the pathogens they carried, than I
to the fevers of memory in the folds
and the weave of these old blue blankets.
from Moon Wheels (Bloodaxe, 2006), © Ruth Fainlight 2006, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books