The politics of illness – a small collection

Recently I put together a tiny poetry collection to apply for a grant. It was an interesting exercise, writing a set of poems that worked individually but also told a story together. I haven’t really done that before.

There’s six pieces in total. They each stand alone but together they create a picture of living with chronic illness.

N.B I’ve left comments open on this post in case anyone would like to share responses to any of the work.


‘The politics of illness’

A collection.  Sarah Wilson. 


1. Shy

2. Stretching Days

3. The politics of Illness

4. Sedentary

5. Conversations with Wolves

6. A Poet’s Process






A round chicken

Peers around the front door

Head     cocked

A single throaty enquiry

One                       foot                       raised

Assured the all clear

she darts into the kitchen

to sit on the egg bowl.



The woman

Looks behind her and

slides slowly into the pool

Ripples spreading

from her rippling arms.



My lover wears lace

on her wrist, and

a dried feather

on a leather string


She only meets my eyes

When she’s naked.



In the darkness,

with dry eyes open


begin to think of


the funerals I didn’t go to

and the children

I couldn’t claim.




Stretching Days


Sometimes I go for a walk

in the afternoons, when the rain is still dripping

from branches and letterboxes

and the clouds on the hills are fat and empty


While I wander, I think of

friends I don’t know anymore

walking on parallel streets


Their chins up,

feet light,

unused umbrellas swinging


Maybe we’re all

going in the same direction,

maybe they

are also watching trees

bent over with the weight of water

and pocketing leaves


If they turn the right corner

and so do I

We might spot each other



will stand and wait

to see if they cross the street.



The Politics of Illness


“The place for politics,” says Dave, anchoring pint with one hand and drawing a stick figure in the condensation

“is in a bar downtown on Friday, when you’re all a bit pissed and still wearing your work clothes and you can get lippy about the gov’ment, cos nobody’s going to remember on Monday.”


“The place for politics,” says Ruth, while wrangling a squirming toddler into a Bob The Builder tshirt

“is not over the family dinner table, because grandpa likes to have a word too many and you’re just too sensitive for it love, you know that.”


“The place for politics,” says Neil, scratching his beard with three fingers and squinting a red eye

“is on the street, where everyone can hear it. They gotta be told someday. They gotta wake up.”


“The place for politics?” says Anne, sitting back on her heels, exposing knees covered with dirt and blocking the sun from her face with a cocked elbow.

“Well, I don’t know, dear. I think they’ve got it pretty well covered up there in Wellington, don’t they?”


“The place for politics?” says Frankie, applying a line of decisive lipstick and watching me warily in the mirror.

“It’s everywhere. It’s inescapable.”


“Don’t get political with me” says Dale, bouncing the baby against one thigh and scooping up the last biscuit.

“I don’t have time for that bollocks.”


“The place for politics” I think, leaning over the toilet bowl with one hand on the wall and the other holding back my hair

“is right here in our mouths.”






There is a type of sloth

who moves so rarely

people used to think

it was dead in the tree


It eats once a month

it takes that long to digest

It really only lives on one thing

but lots of things live on it


I guess it must think a lot of thoughts

that sloth, hanging upside down

inching along branches at 4 feet per minute

inching into sunlight


Sometimes they live to be 60

sometimes they really do die in the tree, still holding on for dear life

imagine being 60, dying alone in a tree

and no one noticing.




Conversations With Wolves


Talking to you

is like forcing myself

through a very small hole in a barbed wire fence


with the small brained certainty

that the field on the other side is sweeter


Halfway through and no way back

A final tearing heave


Only to see

Strings of fleece left hooked in the wind

and corresponding naked holes

in my belly.




A Poet’s Process


Herbal tea. Blank page. Pensive window. (Windows are not pensive, stop it).

Looking and looking and staring and dreaming and Oh! Tuis in the tree. Tuis in the Kowhai tree. My heart swelling with the song and if I could just find it, that ‘prolonged hesitation between music and meaning,’ the right words to paint the sound and that pretty pretty pretty picture, maybe I could –


It’s been done, a million times done, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t.

But it’s just that they’re so p-

Parochial? Yes.

The flora and fauna,

the heritage, the history, the ancestral inheritance of dirt? (It’s not yours, of course)

The garden path the watercolour the cup of tea

Fuck the fucking landscape.


Just look at them, those two round comma birds, hopping and hanging upside down. They are –


Fat? Well, yes. Drunken? Better. Bristling arguing fat gentlemen, their melodic arguments punctuated by drunken vomiting chain-gurgling chokes? Well, at least it’s realistic.


And there! Kereru! Are they not just so? No, they’re not. Resist. But are they not also drunken and rolling, their eyes peering wildly from whiplash necks?  They might well be but you don’t have to – They do not argue now but they lurch into uneven flight like a pair of corpulent inebriated squatters, and I am breathless to-


Their white feathers are not handkerchiefs or napkins or gentlemen’s neatly tied cravats. They could be a whore’s heaving breasts. They could be the chest of a 17 year old solider before the scarlet bloom of bullets begins. They could be…

Birds. Dead birds. Perhaps I will find the corpses discarded on the path, the ivory coffer left cavernous by neighbourhood cats. A degustation for ants.


Beyond the rolling hills clothed in creeping Nikau palms the city sleeps in suburban ignorance (oh, no, alliteration? must you? I must). The bush heaves in; the roots push up through the cracks. (What I mean of course is that my roots are showing through my cracks).

My cup of tea is cold and the dawn parade (I mean chorus. No, I mean parade. Do I mean chorus?) is long since over.


The battle in the garden continues. The roots through the path, the Tuis with drunken clasp to growing trees, Kereru with arrogant white palate, the cat who always watches, the ants’ slow procession of flesh.


My heritage

my history



inheritance of dirt.