H  A  I  K  U     S  P  I  R  I  T
A Huge Firework

Leaving work in the hospital, going straight to a hospital. Kevin is in trouble. Yesterday's operation on his brain tumour was a success. But there are complications. He is unconscious, I am told. We are asked to pray for him.

A tiny waiting room. Kevin's family. Three psychiatric nurses. We listen to the family as best we can. The facts, the events, their suddenness, the weight of their significance – told in rotation, punctuated by sobbing. The room seems dark. There is another family too. They look more settled in their trauma. They
are giving us silence. They wait.

'Do you want to see him?' his father Jim says out of the blue. I do. Others hesitate. I go up with Jim and a colleague. A twist in a corridor, stairs, doors and double doors, a sudden confusion of nurses, we are with him. We are with Kevin.

He is still. He looks bigger. A lot of tubes and drains in situ. A nurse works at the end of his bed. Someone says hello, says his name – 'Hello Kevin'. I glance around. I am trying to take it all in.

A rack of machines
noticing a single word

An outburst of crying. Footsteps rush away. A door closes again. I reach for Kevin's hand. With great difficulty, I speak:

'Kevin, this is Sean. I know you can hear me. Do you remember our time in Italy? Milan and Venice and the San Siro? Do you remember when you were mistaken for an Italian in Milan and asked for directions?

I'm going back for Christmas and the New Year. You'd be very welcome to come; you're great to travel with. The operation went well yesterday, the tumour is gone.'

I stop talking. I can sense Jim behind me near the window. I can sense the nurse at the end of the bed and that she has paused in her work. There is a silence now.

His ventilator
its rhythm
deepening the silence.

I talk again. I'm not sure what I am saying now. I am trying to encourage Kevin. I do my best but I am lost. I remember a comfortable silence we shared on a late night train journey in Italy that time four years ago.
The memory centres me.

We share a final silence again before I leave. I leave.

Two days later. In the ward office, Kevin's name is still on the duty board written in felt pen. Everyone notices. There is a heaviness on the ward. The patients have been told. Everyone knows.

Across the city, in another hospital, Kevin dies.

The whole of the nursing team fragments into grieving. We all seek solitude. Nurses arrive from other wards to relive us. I am alone in the ward office. There is a small task that must be done –

At work when he died
my finger on the staff board
wipes off his name.

We return to the general hospital. In a group, family, friends and work colleagues stand around. There are quiet introductions. Kevin is not laid out yet, we can see him in the hospital morgue later. I go outside to walk and smoke. In the grounds I see Jim.

Going to the morgue
with his son's favourite shirt and tie
– Kevin's dad.

Cavan. The countryside you had spoken of. The fields all around. Their moisture. There is a hint of rain. Rolling towards Venice you had talked of this place. How you loved to be alone in these fields. You liked a soft drizzle, the sound of water in the drains of the land. Gravel underfoot on the narrow lane to your home.

We wait here for you Kevin. A guard of honour of your friends in nursing. The class we trained with has reassembled. Recognition of those not seen for some time. Few words spoken, much said. The church bell tolls. A subtle movement behind tall trees that line the graveyard. Bringing you to church, your hearse appears.

Above your cortege
six or seven
late swallows

On your hearse
the class photograph
our smiling faces.

Morning of the funeral. The sky is overcast. There is an unspoken hope for rain. It is the belief here that rain for a burial is a good thing. It is fitting. A positive sign.

The end of your final mass. As you pass by, I am broken. There is no controlling this grief. We are swept along. The pitched song of the choir. The darkened clothing. The eddying out of this slow crowd.

Pouring. Between headstones, the final assembly.

All this crying
under black umbrellas
the sound of heavy rain.

Winter. It is now three months since we buried Kevin. Again, on a train bound for Venice. We have started to cross the lagoon. The water looks dark in today's poor light.

Winter fog
popping out of the water
a cormorant.

It is half past midday, with a look of early night. Just ahead, there is a black shape of land, then;

a yard by the water's edge
full of headstones.

Retracing the ground. It was easy to find, this laneway. But can the only hotel we had stayed in be so quickly come by? A distinctive façade, yes, this is it. I record the name. In English it means, 'Alpine Star'. Patrizia and I move on. We cross a bridge.

Dense winter fog
how purple
this beggar's hands.

It is the week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Venice is almost deserted. Even the locals have gone to ground. Through the spiny streets and canals only the clothes-lines (much fewer than usual) are evidence of life. There's not even a cat!

At last, the sea and the great piazza. Patrizia insists on a photograph, and as I root for the camera:

A sudden sea mist
the whole of San Marco –

New Year's morning. Milan. Almost four a.m. All the rush of millennial hoo-ha is over. An old tram sounds its bell and rattles away. We walk.

a huge firework
black sky.

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