the long gleam of their hands, all reaching out,
the teeming voices, the shafts of blue light,
the smell that is not a smell, the mask
and the underbelly, the fine soft hands touching 
gently, moving me just a little, the body so soft 
and ready to move, to be moved and oh to let it
be moved, they shift me a couple of millimetres 
on the metal table, the long gleam, the beam again 
sifting through the light and their hands are now 
blue so soft and their voices so gentle
and I am worried about losing words, but the words 
come to me, they are large and clumsy, soft,
and the grief racks and sobs, a wind that knows
no bounds, it is not careful, it does not take
any account of the fragility of the system, it knows 
no end or beginning, and in the brain some tiny 
white caterpillars start to move and wriggle
and suddenly they are a mass of white butterflies, 
thick and feathery, noisy, soft, filling every space, 
and now we are flying, they rise up into the air
and we are all flying together, but the bones are hurting, 
there is a lot of hurt inside them, and I do not even know 
their colour any more, perhaps they are also a soft
white, like the butterflies, perhaps a creamy colour
with streaks of tawny brown, or are they running red—
I do not think so, I think they must be like wood,
soft wood, wood that is creaking and bending, sighing 
and moaning, unsure of itself, so uncertain of the way, 
so battered—and all around my head there are sheets, 
white, white sheets, flapping and blowing,
a washing-line with giant sheets, I walk into it
again and again and the white clean smell blows hard, 
and there are hills and hills, vast inclines and soft 
slopes, lined with white sheets, acres of them blowing 
and blowing and I walk into them and through them 
and they wrap me round and up and in, and then
they let me pass and I can pass through and between 
and down and up, and if only I can keep walking, 
finding the gaps—there are avenues of light
and now there is a wide and open terrain, my brain
is a vast, hilly country, etched with deep ravines
and chasms, and in those chasms little people
are clambering up and down, I am watching them 
from very far away, they have ropes and gear,
they are busy in their efforts and I wonder what
they find down there, down deep, and why they persist, 
and then, suddenly, there is grass underfoot
and my skin finds the greenest, softest spots
and I stop to press my heel deep and hard against
the ground and it does let me sink just a little,
just a little, but around my head I know
that there is now loss and more loss, and the body 
cannot take any more without something being lost 
forever, and why did I not know this of people before? 
And how long to go on? And how far to try,
how much to take, and is there even a choice?
No, the small faces keep telling me, there isn’t,
and his face and strong arms and the small
faces again—Mummy, what is your favourite shape? 
Well, my love, my favourite shape, I think
is the shape of your face right here—his eyes
go thoughtful and he traces his finger around
a perfect chin and again there is only skin
and its softness, and the grubbiness, and the tears, 
and out there on the wide wide hills you have to keep 
looking out, looking over, don’t look down
too much, don’t look down, don’t look down

don’t look down

Sarah Broom (1972–2013) was a New Zealand poet and scholar. Born and educated in the South Island, she studied in the United Kingdom at the University of Leeds (MA in English) and gained a DPhil from Oxford University. She was a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford, before returning in 2000 to New Zealand, where she held a post-doctoral fellowship at Massey University (Albany) and lectured in English at Otago University. Her book Contemporary British and Irish Poetry: An Introduction was published in 2006; followed by two books of poetry, Tigers at Awhitu (Auckland University Press/Carcanet, 2010) and the posthumous collection Gleam (2013).

The Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was established in 2013 in memory of Sarah. Starting in 2014, it will be awarded annually to offer recognition and financial support to new and established New Zealand poets.

Publisher’s note: Sarah Broom wrote the poem ‘Gleam’ after undergoing radiation therapy in 2012; and it immediately became the title poem of the collection she was completing at the time. Broom died in Auckland in April 2013 as Gleam was being finalised for press.

Poem source details >



Sarah Broom’s website
Sarah Broom Poetry Prize
Auckland Univerity Press author page