When I come to see him at visiting time
he tells me he feels bloodless.
His bedside is aching with books;
a whole history rewritten
by a real hand. He tells me, shakily,
that fiction is bad for the nerves.
Perhaps I scared him when I said
his spray of vertebrae was real,
a chain of pale stalactites unfurling
until the man is an ammonite
still breathing underwater,
a sort of living proof.
Today in this bed of bleeping stars,
a tourniquet cuddles his arm. It soothes him,
counting the drip of his blood
blossoming through the lines.
He is thinking of the third time
he painted the bathroom red.
He lies when he tells me calmly
the second was an accident, the first a test.
The third time it didn’t feel real.
Cotton-gowned, his fossiled shoulders
are boned impressions,
gossamer-white beneath bedsheets
until the sun gives up its blood-lights
and sinks; pale as an egg.
It’s like that, he says: