My son doesn’t go to school
any more he goes somewhere
else. He goes out walking alone
with his hat on his head,
lies on a bed, where they slip
a drip to the vein and
he has his body pumped full.
Funny how they grow up
says the woman who is the chemist,
Is it your only one?
It’s harder then because you’ve spoilt them
here’s your prescription, forty nine dollars.
I try to pretend
she doesn’t know a thing, a thing that she’s saying.
Here’s a red light outside
and I have to stop, and everywhere there’s children
a reminder of the way we come
into the world, birth, growth,
and end up fat or thin.
He, my own, was thin before
the drugs set in and made him fat,
now he looks like a frog.
There’s a dog on the way home
so I pat it, sign of the hope
I have for the future.
When I get in he’s on the bed
I can tell he feels bad, don’t
he says. He often says that.
Or come here and he holds my
hand and there we are, two
tiny pebbles perched on the edge,
with the silvery sand far below us.
We don’t like to use the C-word
says one white coat.
They prefer the ambiguous
nodes to tumours, or even
bumps and lumps, if you were dumb
you might think you had mumps.
ln ward one he starts to tell me
his dream: we are chased
by a giant goldfish, we reach
a cellar, we are trapped
by the goggle-eyed fish in a dead
sea end, and then suddenly
he is all alone with an enormous
tome on his lap, the words medical
dictionary are embossed on its cover,
and he opens it, and he begins to read.
LISTEN to ‘Goldfish’ by Vivienne Plumb
Vivienne Plumb is a Wellington writer who writes poetry, prose and drama. She was born in the St George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Camperdown, Sydney, Australia (1955) to a New Zealand mother and an Australian father.
Her collection of short fiction, The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep, was awarded the Hubert Church Prose Award. Her first novel, Secret City, was published by Cape Catley Press in 2003.
Her poem, ‘The Tank’, won first prize in the 1999 N.Z. Poetry Society annual competition. The poem, ‘Goldfish’, appears in Scarab, a chapbook of twelve linked poems that are about the death of her son from Hodgkins disease (cancer of the lymph glands).
Vivienne has also been a recipient of the Bruce Mason Playwrighting Award (N.Z.), the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship (N.Z.), a University of Iowa International Writing Residency (U.S.A), and a Varuna Retreat Fellowship (Australia).
She presently teaches creative writing in Wellington.
Plumb comments: ‘I wrote this poem one night when I couldn’t sleep. It’s about the big ones: birth and death. It was written about my only son, Willie, who had Hodgkins disease (cancer of the lymph glands) and died at age 27 after a ten-year struggle against the disease. This poem was written at the beginning of his illness, when he was seventeen and undergoing his first course of chemotherapy.
There is some interesting rhyming going on in “Goldfish”. For me, the poem has a particular rhythm when I read it – a rhythm that changes three times. The dream in the poem was a dream my son really had, right down to the medical dictionary he was reading in the dream when he woke up.
For some reason goldfish often appear in my writing – I did own two quite beautiful goldfish in a tank when I was a child, they often won prizes in the local pet competitions.’