Poetry Drawer: The Missing Man by Giles Turnbull

Poet Giles Turnbull writes: In addition to blindness, poor control of my diabetes also led to kidney failure. I received a transplant in 2013 and all looked good. Then on 4 July 2014, a year after the transplant, I fell down the house stairs and didn’t remember anything else until mid-September, at which point I had received one dose of chemo and had one more ahead of me, plus some radiotherapy.

The immunosuppressant meds that I take to stop my body rejecting the new kidney left me vulnerable to other infections. One had crossed my blood-brain barrier and I had brain lymphoma. I wasn’t in a coma or anything, I just had zero memory, short or long term; I couldn’t have told you my name let alone that I wrote poetry!

But all is good now. Every 6 months I visit the hospital for a check-up, and each time they ask how my memory is. Apparently high dose chemo and radiotherapy can lead to early onset dementia. I enjoy reading novels like Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, and Still Alice by Lisa Genova, because I like to know what might await me. This is how I imagine myself, hopefully many years hence.

The Missing Man

There’s just a blur where it used to sit

between my ears and above my sneeze.

My mission is a puzzle

that started with an assignment —

I’m a contract killer?

Maybe it was a push in my aching back,

maybe just a prompt,

but it melted into the laughing dawn,

left me clueless about 8am,

where I’d been with whom —

I’m sure they were poets,

they have an unmistakable flavour and scent

that clings to my shirt,

of sniffer dog’s feet

and parrot’s feathers.

Somebody is watching me

while I wash my face,

eyes that enquire how long I’ve been wiping,

what I’m trying to erase

… I have not the foggiest.

I cannot remember what I am

supposed to use this soggy cloth for,

it cries occasional tears along my cheek

before returning to the bowl

and sinking back to sleep.

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