See below for the winning poem from 1st Prize Winner, Steve May, and John Hegley’s specific reflections on the poem beneath it.
For all other winners, click ‘All winners’ in the tab above.
Assisted living facility, home for the elderly;
old folk’s home, to you and me. Call it what you like,
she didn’t like it there; at least, I don’t think she did.
She never said anything, but you could tell.
I don’t think she liked the smell; even though
we’d picked the one that seemed to smell the least,
you can’t escape that antiseptic gloom,
that hits you in the face, as soon as you
walk through the remote-controlled door.
We’d brought her 200 miles from her home,
to what must have seemed the middle of nowhere;
but at least we could visit her every day.
She just wanted to stay in her room all the time,
but they wanted her to go downstairs and mix;
at least they’d know she was safe down there.
She didn’t eat much, just nudged things round on the plate,
like the jigsaws she once did, though nothing matched.
It seemed her teeth might be to blame; the dentist came
and ordered a new set; at least then she’d be able to eat.
Her life in there was simple. Morning: up, wash, dress, nibble.
Bedtime: rub down, lights out, done. During the day, very little,
as the home did its work. At least she was never any trouble.
Her hair was a mess, so the hairdresser gave her a perm.
That perked her up; she looked much better afterwards.
She loved her hair being brushed, but it was mostly the touch;
with little talk and little grasp of what was said,
it seemed that touching was the best way forward.
One day, I wheeled her down to the beach. She’d always dreamt
of living by the sea, so this location, seemed ideal;
or, at least, as ideal as it could be. It was wintry cold,
but at least she’d had a little glimpse and come the spring,
we’ll be able to bring you down here a lot. Yes, that’d be nice.
But in the end it wasn’t to be. She lasted three weeks
in that home; then died, in her sleep, in the tv room.
The coroner said it was just a case of a weak heart,
which sounded about right. I think she just gave up, hadn’t the heart
to carry on in that empty place, that would never be home;
alone, in the middle of a hundred strange people.
One more Christmas might have been nice, one spring, one summer even;
but maybe not; perhaps she never really wanted that.
A few days later, I retraced the steps I’d taken on that walk,
as I pushed her through the park, round the lake, under the bridge
and down to the water’s edge. At least she’d seen the sea
and lived right by it for those 22 days and 21 nights.
Then, those 200 miles back home, in the back of a van.
But at least there’d be no more, have you got your keys?
her distant faint last words, before I quietly closed her door.
And at least she didn’t have the pain of bedding in a new set of teeth,
that childhood trauma of teething all over again.
And at least she went in her sleep.
John Hegley’s comments on the winning poem: