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Poetic License: The Last Week of Your Life

In the latest of our series of poems by local writers, Sarah Caulfield shares The Last Week of Your Life. Based on being a Northern, state-school, disabled student at Cambridge University, it was first published in their collection Discomfort (2021) by Headmistress Press. Main image: artwork by the author.
The Last Week of Your Life
by Sarah Caulfield

The world warps and holds like a reality television show. Everyone is laughing.
Everyone is smiling. The fishbowl effect.
It feels as though I could put my hand through the glass
and touch the flowers and the stars, limn my mouth with champagne and tell myself:
I have always been happy here. I have no regrets.
I have spent the best years of my life amongst the greenery
and all I see in my eyes are firework displays.

We are the bright young things of our generation
but in my eyes all I see is the light of a star just before it dies.
We are the bright young things of our generation
but all I hear is all the air leaving my chest.
There is nothing but a cavity and sugar isn’t good for you.

They tell you you have to suck all the poison out of a wound.
They tell you to put your mouth to it and spit it all back out.
They tell you this will save your life.

So here goes:
Leaving felt like elimination,
my spine curved back so far as I tried to lean into the grind
that it became a wishbone;
Something to be worn to slenderness, and in all honesty,
Is it any surprise I did what all good wishbones do, and let myself snap?

Here goes:
I write with my head parallel to the pen,
my wrist bent back whilst I sprawl horizontal.
I eat melon cut up so it’s easier to swallow.
I sleep with the structure of military school and sleep for me is like falling.
I don’t remember how it happens.
I forget: names, words, where I put my keys, what you call an oven.

Here goes:
I have become angrier. I have become less tolerant.
I have become less willing to excuse people who mean well.
I don’t mean to hurt anyone on the road,
but if we both end up sprawled across the cobblestones,
with a dented bicycle tire, dented pride, dented knees,
I didn’t mean it like that isn’t going to stop the bleeding.

They tell you to open your mouth.
They tell you to put your tongue behind your teeth and
they tell you to make noise.
They tell you this will save your life.

And here goes. Here goes. Here goes.

Sarah Caulfield is a Blackpool-born and based visual artist, creative and author of Spine (2017) and Discomfort (2021) both published by Headmistress Press. Twice-nominated for a Pushcart Prize, their work has appeared in Lavender Review, Indolent Books, Voicemail Poems, and Tokyo Poetry Journal, among others. Sarah’s work was accepted into the National Poetry Library Archive in 2023.

Sarah has have lived in Poland, Germany, Japan and Korea. Their previous work includes being a shabbos goy, KFC checkout girl and children’s birthday party entertainer. They are currently working on their third chapbook, focusing on legacy, trauma and rebirth.

Read more from our Poetic License series here.

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