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Darryl Emmerson

I walked slowly. The path ahead, grey and wet, wound between defiant green shrubs, vines which trapped and strangled trees and frames, and, above all, the most brilliant flowers I had ever seen. On every side, plants thrust upwards, ran along the earth, crossed the pathways, and I could not avoid their damp, constant touch. Leaves, petals, stalks, branches, trunks, reaching and fighting for air, space and the precious soil, declared this place their dominion, it did not belong to the few, frail patients you sometimes saw. I called to the gardener, often a slighted figure in such places.

 Emilio! Where is she?

 Further on. You are late today, he said, and turned away, back to his real interest.

By now I had reached my mother's ward. This old hospital, to the east of Melbourne, was mostly wooden, its construction the result of some casual wartime directive, the scattered, one-storey buildings hardly aware of each other. Inside the ward, where antique heaters fitfully burned, many beds were empty, and the steps of the lonely, white-garbed staff echoed on the timber floor. It was about seven o'clock at night, and a reading lamp shone on the nurse's face, as she sat writing her notes. As I passed, she gave me a tired, benevolent glance.

How are you? she asked

Not bad, I said, but that wasn't really true. There was something to say.

I could feel the poem in my pocket. At lunchtime, in the office, I had stayed to write it out, rather than join the others heading out for some food and a drink. All through those days I seemed to need someone to say tender words to me, but no one noticed, or had the time. The poem did it for me, and would introduce the difficult subject. Things were nearing some kind of climax.

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