At the end of a regular meeting on a Victorian estate, I took the usual shortcut to the main gate. The feeling of pride strikes me as I walk confidently in constantly fluorescent-lit passageways. I know which turn to take, which door to open. At the end of each long corridor, there is always a door, and after the door, there is always a long corridor. It was how the hospitals were built: labyrinth-like. Have you ever been lost inside a hospital?
The hospital staff call the old building the 'Main Building'. With several buildings scattered on the estate, the name couldn't be more appropriate. Its imposing entrance, central courtyard with a large fountain, and hundreds of bedrooms ordered in its four wings like a palace, it evokes the Main Building with the unwritten status of 'the history of this place starts here'. And it all began when the Main Building was founded by the Victorians as the Lunatic Asylum in 1840.
I knew the building well. After two years working on the re-design of the hospital, I could visualise each floor plan in my head. I used to look at the façade, pick one of several windows that my eyes randomly lead me and then guessed what sort of room was behind it, like a game in my mind. Only one part was a blur in this game, and that's the abandoned wing of the building. The new survey we commissioned to measure the building couldn't provide us with a single sketch of where some walls could be. It was just not safe for surveyors or anyone to enter the three floors of this neglected wing. Floors and ceilings were in such a state of ruin that they could collapse anytime, especially when disturbed. Still, I will look up and see those windows, but instead of wondering the type of room, I imagine the stories behind them.
Leaving a regular meeting, I took the usual shortcut. A discreet door led me out of the building to the open sky. On one side, I could see the abandoned part and another, in contrast, a well-maintained courtyard surrounded by dense vegetation and mature trees. But something caught my eye in the greenery: the tiny white and lilac colour flowers sprouting out of the grass. It was Spring, as it is today, and it seemed that a few people had used the shortcut route too because the flowers were all bent by their steps. I wonder why those flowers are so resilient, able to withstand foot traffic, reshape and yet blossom. I wonder how the victims who suffer from mental abuse survive in harsh conditions. They might be imprisoned inside of their mind. Or sometimes, they are locked away, in their own house with the perpetrator, as they are now, in the coronavirus lockdown.
I wrote a poem after seeing the tiny flowers on the grass and wanted to portray the resilience of survivors of domestic violence. And here, I would like to dedicate it to those whose cry for help yet cannot be heard.
This kick means no harm
Bears no intent
Heavily, it pressed me to the ground
Yet light, to leave my colour still unchanged
I would not rise after another
Could you have seen me?
Could you have spared me?
The strength to stop the foot before my face
I am fine, yes
Humid earth will decompose
My broken body
Ask me for forgiveness
Tell me how much you regret
I will flower again
In the coming Spring
As surely as your kick
Bearing no intent
Meaning no harm.
The surge in domestic violence during the pandemic has proven that being home is not synonymous of being 'safe'. However, as each government begins to relax the lockdown, so too will many flower again.
Lyndon Ives edits my posts. He is the songwriter and singer of Short Empire. See Instagram @shortempiremusic for music video clips. Some are funny.
The poem was originally written in Portuguese and then translated into English in collaboration with my friend and poet Richard Marshall.
The photo was taken exactly on the day and the location described.
More poetry on @alicehsiehpoetry