Separation – Colin Campbell Analysis

a card arrives 
“happy birthday  fondest love”
i stand it on the fridge
whilst  half a world away
she has forgotten that she sent it
but recalls the usual things
peeling the vegetables  making the bed  sweeping  dusting
later  her head nods over a page  and
the once-friendly words turn away and hide
thin rain oozes from the mossy tiles 
and the bare brown trees stare through the afternoon 
and drip  she tries to remember what it is 
that she must thaw for tea 
and the kitchen  silent as lino  will not tell her
dealt from a well-worn pack of tidy habits 
(what ought to be done rather than the needful)
hours are laid out in patterns on the day’s thin fabric
(so much is to do with the turn
of one moment to cover the last)
whilst indifferent  greedy  thieving Time
gnaws the afternoon
rubbing a hole in the window’s condensation 
she watches the cold  flat Suffolk landscape
turn and shiver beneath the winter sky
and  looking up  she sees the cold rain in the trees …
… and i remember it
Colin Campbell (1941 -

Colin uses spaces in his text to denote a pause while reading. For example – and the kitchen  silent as lino there are two spaces between kitchen and silent. So the more spaces between words in the text the longer the pause.

Colin is a member of our U3A Poetry Appreciation Group and this is a poignant poem from his book ‘Poems’ published at the end of 2021. Looking at each stanza I can give some context to give more depth behind the words which might help the reader.

S1 … The poem addresses Colin’s mother in England while he himself is living in Australia. The first three lines refer to Colin placing a card from his mother on the fridge. This is then a trigger to a reflection on his mother who is living with dementia in Suffolk, England. Maybe he has mentioned the card in a telephone conversation and his mother has no recollection of sending it.

But with a failing mind his mother is confined to keeping track of everyday happenings.

And I like the way words are personified as they hide their meaning as she struggles in daily life.

S2 … It is a dreary winter day … the trees have lost their leaves … it is fitting in connection with the loss or separation taking place in the struggle with domestic life. And little things once easily performed are now hard to fathom out … again, the wonderful personification of the kitchen lino – silent – and unable to help.

S3 … Habits do die hard … worn down by the years … she would like to keep her house tidy but is this really needed … and the day’s thin fabric give that sense that the day itself is fading akin to perhaps the fading of clothes now worn by his mother. And the complexity of each moment as it turns on itself in the effort to combat the lack of mind progression in dealing with dementia … clearly there is separation in the ability to deal with everyday life

And Time is capitalised to give strength to the personification as it gnaws away life … nicely connecting to the problem with trying to remember what’s for tea previously mentioned in the second stanza.

S4 … we have a picture of Colin’s mother looking out on the dreary winter Suffolk environment … creating a small window hole on life outside … the hole that is dementia in reducing life, and she sees the cold rain descending …

… and Colin too remembers the Suffolk scene … and there is a sense of beauty in his recollection of his Suffolk days … perhaps different to the way his mother sees the countryside … but although there is separation there is that strong personal connection.

This is a poem that will relate to those coming to terms with dementia in whatever way the condition manifests.