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Julie-ann Rowell: a poem

Institution Garden

Our half-moon garden is surrounded by a tall fence

with an overhang at the top and a padlocked gate.

Is it designed to keep us in as well as others out?

I'd like to debate this, but it never comes up.

I watch staff hurrying along the path outside.

I once saw my CBT therapist crammed

into her cycling gear. The path must be an important

route between somewhere and somewhere; I'll never

find out. I gaze through the diamonds of wire at a blackbird

on the trimmed lawn, foraging in sight of the sick.

I saw his partner the other day, all of a flutter.

We were in on it together. A cat often slides under the gate;

white and grey-flecked it steals its way to the

automatic door leading into the dining space

which I've come to hate. Eating is an agony

we inmates mostly share, an exercise in staying alive.

Often, I have the garden to myself, a shed

full of chairs in disrepair and attempts at borders

with sprawling bushes, strawberry plants

struggling into season, potted plants with

fizzy drink cans stuffed in the pots and shreds

of roll-ups on the hexagonal paving.

It's where I attempt to practise mindfulness –

try the garden my OT said, to clear your head.

The benches all face in on each other; in the centre

a circle of greenery edged with painted stones

decorated by former patients, some bright, all suns and stars,

others indecipherable, which makes perfect sense.

Julie-ann Rowell’s fourth poetry collection, Exposure, was published in 2019 by Turas Press, Dublin. Her first pamphlet Convergence (Brodie Press) won a Poetry Book Society Award. Her collection Letters North was nominated for the Michael Murphy Poetry Prize for Best First Collection in Britain and Ireland in 2011.


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