Not in hospital; nobody wants that.
Nor the pale-blue rooms and communal eating-spaces
of the hospice, however kindly. Not alone
on an industrial estate in Switzerland,
being filmed stating Yes I understand
if I drink this liquid… Not even in bed at home
surrounded by sobbing family, Victorian
fantasy of reunion and forgiveness.
Since it’s going to happen and won’t be dignified,
you could do a lot worse than a railway station
waiting room. Say Barnham, where after class
with the boys from the boys’ school we dawdled for the connection:
coal fire, view of the station pub, a playground,
mourners hurrying up from the underpass.
I’ve certainly known some beautiful railway stations.
St Pancras before it became a shopping-mall
and they hid the trains: wood-panelled ticket-office,
six empty tracks leading the mind north
past the gasometers to an improbable
state of grace; or Milan with its Day Hotel,
where you could have a shower and a change of clothes
in time for your Last Supper with Leonardo.
But the number one station for dying in
must be Ljubljana: the driving snow, the boys
off to art college in Venice, the gun-metal
socialist-realist trains, their sides announcing
the life beyond: Budapest, Bucharest,
Prague, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Athens.
You’re not taking this seriously. It’s not about
childhood or tourism or the early years
of your marriage. You are deciding where to die,
assuming you have a choice and aren’t knocked down
by a single-decker bus at Turnpike Lane,
or a heart attack in the Parkway ladies’ toilets.
It’s losing control of your body, shamefully,
and your mind, which will stop writing poetry forever.
So what you need is less the architecture
(though a final view of a vaulted wrought-iron roof
would do for transcendence) than the sound of trains
leaving for cities you can dream about
in the final minutes, and busy humanity
with its suitcases and phones and sudden weeping.
Ruth Valentine’s latest collection, Downpour, has recently come out from Smokestack. She’s won prizes in the National, Troubadour & London poetry competitions, been a Poetry Society New Poet, & had a poem on the DART railway in Dublin.