A Break - Stella Bahin, Poet-in-Residence
Next Saturday I’ll be in Bognor Regis Library facilitating two free community poetry workshops for BlakeFest; one starting at 11am, one starting at 1pm, both 90 minutes duration. Last Saturday was my 53rd birthday. At the early passing from my birthday evening into Sunday morning’s small hours, shortly after midnight – what a shock – I quite unexpectedly received a brand new bespoke ring. Wedding finger. Third finger of my left hand; that one. How it arrived, I will describe shortly. (It wasn’t by owl.) But I will put here the fact that I was stunned. Soon after – though it wasn’t as if I could possibly ignore it, or forget about it – I went to bed to take the time to sleep first before making any decisions as to what I might do about this tremendous ring I now so suddenly owned, and this altogether surprising and crucial turn of events
By the daytime, I knew I’d need some help with the situation: I couldn’t even quite understand what it was by myself – a wedding finger ring – so out of the blue; but I wanted my busy-birthday-following Sunday to be a day of rest, not, however important and insistent, a day of quest. Not yet. I therefore postponed my necessary addressing of it till first thing yesterday morning, Monday. Businesslike. When I finally put everything else aside to set off and go seek the company of the empathetic, down to earth, and intelligent people I knew would be able to provide me with the informed advice, opinion, and assistance, I was now clearly at a loss without. And only then was I finally able to see the ring for what it was, in stark black and white: its encompassing circumference, at the base of the proximal phalange of the third finger of my left hand, precisely where anyone would expect a traditional ring to sit: an absolute, round, break.
I’d tripped on an object I’d left on the floor in my room, my splayed hands instinctively shooting out to catch my fall, one of them crashing into my hard, pine, Victoriana, furniture; my weight and momentum behind it. The ring finger had slammed straight out from the top of the palm, snapping inside like a tugged wishbone. The tendon is now adrift, or the tendons are. The finger is swollen, bent, bruised, and barely mobile. The break is the internal ‘ring’, a circular fissure; the ‘black and white’, refers to the X-Rays taken at St Mary’s NHS Treatment (Walk-In) Centre, Portsmouth. Those ‘empathetic, down to earth, and intelligent people’ are the NHS staff who tended to me and tend to us all with our ailments, afflictions, and wounds.
A right-hander, I’m currently typing with my right hand, one-handed. Grateful the damaged hand is my left. But grateful for more than that, and more than grateful: I was amazed to see within the backlit X-Ray exactly how and where my finger had fractured. I do believe my mouth had dropped open a little at the sight, my eyes rounding and sparkling with pained wonder. Up till then I’d understood there was a tendon problem, which would need specialist attention, probably surgery. Yes, my finger looked wonky, and felt badly hurt, but I’d still been hoping it was all about the soft tissues until the nurse had added, “Of course, it’s completely broken…” pointing at the first X-Ray, then changing it for another X-Ray from a different angle, then another, “…all round.” The ring. Cracked into and through the bone. Neatly and precisely. A gap of, a shadow of, a severance of, a ring.
It had been a simple accident which had happened, as accidents so often do, extremely quickly. And yet the location and shape of the resultant snap was so significant to me, it seemed the stuff of dreams, of the psyche, of Jung’s Collective Unconscious, of sorcery, of superstition, of imagination, of romance, of visual art, of sculpture, of faith, of poetry. Before my incredulous eyes, in undeniable, detailed, reality. An anti-ring. A non-decorative, hidden, internal ring of absence. A ring of cleavage. Designed, perhaps, by serendipity.
The nurse assured me I’ll still be able to fulfil my scheduled BlakeFest duties. For the meanwhile, she’s taped my broken ring finger to its neighbouring little finger and placed the hand high in a sling to allow it to drain. The nearby knuckles were discoloured and distorted by swelling too, and before seeing the contradictory evidence provided by the X-Ray, the nurse, it seemed, believed I’d got the injury by hitting someone with my closed fist, rather than by reaching out with the hand urgently opened, mid-unplanned-tumble, as I had. Not hating, but clowning. She’d gently pressed on the stretched but unbroken skin above the knuckles, asking if it hurt, which it hadn’t, not there. “How did you damage your hand?” she’d asked, pointedly.
“I don’t think I have.” I’d replied. I was right, as the nurse confirmed after having viewed the X-Rays:
“The impact was all in the finger.”
Not even a clown would try swing a punch with their finger, and this was evidently more than a poke, too.
I have an appointment at the larger QA Hospital in Cosham next week with a hand specialist allowing time for the swelling to subside. “Their concern is always with restoring maximum mobility. There are a lot of nerves in there, as well as tendons. It’s complicated. Don’t worry, we’ll get you sorted,” the nurse reassured me. Friends and family have offered lifts, support, jokes, and comfort. Bless them (you) all.
Some people have imaginary friends, I previously had an imaginary wedding ring. I used it as a basis, or ‘conceit’, within both my poetry, and prose. In my slim book, The Unicornskin Drum, the protagonist, The Knitter, comes to wear a message from the one she adores, like a ring, on her wedding finger, for example. (No spoilers.) I forged my imaginary ring out of ‘arrows of desire’, with willpower, with sunlight, with spit, with circular strokes of wine. I wrote about it a lot, it meant all sorts of things to me. But eventually, as a single divorcee, I’d felt I could carry my conceptual ring with me no further; write about it no more. So, I’d prayed this imagined precious object into the conceptual custodianship of my concept of the church. Or, psychologically shelved it. Safely. An imaginary object I’d seen shine so brightly, there on my finger, that it had hurt my material eyes.
Now, by 'hap' or mishap, I’ve got it back, transformed, through the bone. In reality. As a band of personal, individual, independent, pain, which will become a permanent bone-scar. The injury will become frustrating and tedious. It already has done, and is. But it also feels – truly – like something of a gift to me.
Anyone witnessing Blake while he was perceiving a visitation by an angel in his garden at Felpham, would probably have seen nothing more than a man staring distractedly and rapturously at a bare, possibly blue, possibly cloudy, sky. I like to think that if I got the chance to time-travel, and was fortunate enough to be allowed by Blake to do so, I would stand shoulder to shoulder with him, looking up with him, attempting to see, or at least glimpse, what he was seeing, too. If he asked, I would tell him about my poorly finger: “My conceptual life, and my material life: here, married. At last.” And I might ask him, “What do you suppose it could mean, please, Mr Blake? Or would you put it down to chance?”
See you on Saturday at Bognor Regis Library?