Visiting Sheelin
by Marion Clarke

“Let me brush your hair,” you say,
“how’d you get it in such a state?”

And you scramble up onto those sharp, little knees
on that huge, unyielding hospital bed.

My friend and I, both college crows,
pick through the bones of your lunch leftovers.

You tut in mock annoyance,
I laugh with fake enjoyment
and relate how my tutor had to shake me awake
during a lesson, after Thursday’s folk session
in the student union bar.

My voice sounds shrill
as I babble to fill this sanitised space,
to chase away the silence
that frightens.

In those light-blue eyes, a knowing look
that belies your sixteen years,
no longer disguises that which
I will not — no, cannot — acknowledge.

And you hum as you brush
my unruly curls,
and I’m glad of a fringe
that covers my eyes.

Cherry Tree House, October, 1986
Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children

SOURCE: First published in Making Memories, CAP Poetry in Motion anthology, Belfast, 2015.

ABOUT THE POEM: Long listed for the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2015.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Even at my brother’s wedding in England during the 1990s, my hair looks fairly untidy — although I obviously had my fringe cut as it wasn’t hiding my eyes (as in the poem).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Visiting Sheelίn” was written as a tribute to my younger sister, Sheelίn Bradley, who died just before her seventeenth birthday in October 1986. I didn’t set out to write a sad poem and I don’t think it is, as it was inspired by a happy memory of a particular afternoon. It seems strange to think that the event took place almost 30 years ago, as I remember it so vividly. I was a student in Belfast at the time and my friend and I visited Sheelίn in the Royal Victoria Hospital when she was undergoing treatment for Cystic Fibrosis. She often had to spend a week or two there during her short life and, tragically, this was to be her last stay in Cherry Tree House, the unit for teenagers. Sheelίn had a great sense of humour and used to make the doctors and consultants at the hospital laugh. She often brushed my hair as it was long, curly and often untidy, and the incident described in this poem was the last time she attempted to make me look presentable. I worked on this poem for years and only felt it ready for submission relatively recently. I was honoured to be invited to read it at the Heaney awards presentation in Belfast last April. I hope Sheelίn would have liked it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marion Clarke is a writer and artist from Northern Ireland. Her Japanese-style, short form poetry has appeared in a variety of international journals dedicated to haiku, senryu, tanka, and haibun. Her poetry is featured in the first anthology of haiku from Ireland, Bamboo Dreams, and she received a Sakura award in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Haiku Contest, 2012, and won London’s Poet in the City” Haiku Competition sponsored by the Financial Times last year. Marion’s free-form poetry has been long listed for the Desmond O’Grady Prize, 2013, as well as the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, 2015. Learn more at and