Swallowing Reflex, by Becki Hawkes

Twice a week she takes the two-hour train
to visit him in hospital:
gather his sleepy fingers, feel the pulse
inside the loosening peel
like slow jazz, old-fashioned,
comforting, still quietly surprising  

today it’s different:
he’s lost his swallowing reflex
and the nurses say to give him

just a tiny bit of water on a sponge

but she does it wrong, gives him too much
and he’s suddenly choking, terrified
drowning right there in the bed  

they push her out of the way
coax back his thirsty, whale-song breath
clearly resent her
for being inadequate; for making their jobs
even harder  

afterwards she gets a coffee from the machine
thinks about how she doesn’t have to think
about swallowing it, how it just slips
down her lithe, functioning gullet  

as easily as those cappuccinos
from that little deli near the square
they used to go to on Saturdays

where they’d play Mozart arias
each one a combed red vortex
a trembling languorous storm. He knew all the names  

and from him she learned
how people who aren’t musical love music:

you drink it in, no effort required
let it swallow you, all at once  


Published 19th of October 2020


About Becki Hawkes 

Becki Hawkes is from London, used to work as a newspaper arts and film journalist, and now works in communications. She has had poems published in magazines including Ink, Sweat and Tears and Trouvaille Review, and, when younger, had a poem published as part of Poems on the Underground.

Twitter: @BeckiH_678