Joanna Nissel – three poems

Before Entering the Ward

Soap suds to her
forearms, she slides her
palms over the outer
edges of her fists.
Interlacing her fingers
to get into the cracks,
she traces the slight
web of skin between
each knuckle. She runs
her nails under one
another, mining the
space for stray germs.
Last of all she sweeps
the curve of skin
between her forefinger
and thumb in a
semicircle. When she
shakes her hands, she
flicks water droplets
outward like throwing
salt to banish bad
spirits.


Nocturne from the ICU

Halogen bulbs form a spine of
artificial light through the centre
of the ward; it bisects the
narrow room; throws shadows
on tired faces in beds with wires
and tubes. Past midnight, the
lights dim into a soft yellow
that mixes with the blue walls.
The ensuing green reminds you
of an aquarium. You pace
below the row of beds, placing
your feet gently so your rubber-
soled slippers won’t squeak
against the floor. If you wake
the lady in bed three, she won’t
know where she is. She will
demand to see her husband. She
will cry. You look at her fragile,
limpid arms – coated in
puncture wounds from daily
blood tests. You realise that the
wrinkles in her face are laughter
lines. You realise you have
never seen her laugh or smile.
You want to stop looking.


When the Widow Wakes

When, at last, she dredges herself from her bed of memory, afternoon sun on the kitchen’s burgundy tiles illuminates a scarlet sheen. She gropes varnished counter tops for support, as if blind. Fumbles kettle switch, opens back door, breathes intermingling cold air and steam. An old cure: a jolt like livewire. Her eyes clear. She boils an egg for breakfast, sings a sixties song. Sings the words wrong, the way she misheard them when she was young. She spreads the words onto her toast and bites.


Joanna lives near Brighton and interns with Tears in the Fence magazine. She is an MA student at Bath Spa University. She was first published in Irisi magazine, and has work forthcoming in Amaryllis.

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