Good morning! Are there garments in your wardrobes from which a particular event or association is difficult to shake? I have friends, for example, who after wearing a certain dress at a funeral, have found that putting it on again becomes difficult. I’m a particularly garment-attached person, and there’s perhaps no garment to which I’m more attached – or which carries more significance for me – than the coat I’m wearing in the images I showed you yesterday.
This beautiful coat was made by British company Cabbages and Roses, and I coveted it, saved up for it, and bought it around a dozen years ago. It’s also the coat I was wearing when I had my stroke. The photos below show me wearing this coat just a couple of weeks prior to my stroke in 2010 – in fact, I’m walking on the exact same path, in almost the very spot where the stroke happened (just round the corner, beyond the bend).
In this next photo, I’m wearing the coat 8 months after my stroke and recall that this walk, around Tantallon castle, was one of the first I was able to take without a crutch. Underneath the coat, I’m wearing my brilliant carbon-fibre leg brace (which assisted my dorsiflexion) and Bruce is, in this photograph, around 5 months old. I recall that standing for this photograph was uncomfortable. My body is not at ease.
For me, like many people, the things I’ve worn on difficult or painful or strange occasions become profoundly bound up with those events, and every time I take this coat out of the wardrobe I face the inescapable fact that it was what I was wearing when I had a stroke. So my stroke is very present, and always with me when I wear this coat . . . but in a way, that is also the inescapable truth of my life – my stroke is always present to me. And that’s ok.
In fact, I’d say I love my coat all the more for being with me on that awful day, for carrying me across the before and after of brain injury and disability, and for still being with me now.
So this is my poem about my coat.
A coat for falling
I’ll sing a coat
with words, I’ll weave it back to
For many, I know, a winter coat is not
the stuff of yearning
yet, I first breathed “be mine”
to braid claith and tailored line
long before I saw
Not this fine fulled wool of dusky blue
not this chalk-soft check
nor these pleats and pockets, ticking-striped:
material but attests
the fabric of intention.
A coat with its worn
heart on its sleeve a coat
unashamed of its own nostalgia.
A coat approaching costume
A coat around whose silhouette the world resolves itself.
A sheltering husk of braggadocio
to clothe the body’s diffidence.
Into its soft folds are gathered
animals, machines, craftwomanship,
work and time and honey-coloured stone
the Yorkshire mill in which its threads were woven
the heart that claimed it and the hands that stitched.
In buttoning, might I bear forth the substance of these things?
A coat against which surely all winds shall blow kindly:
godspeed, blue coat!
As assured and fit for purpose as a schooner
my rig and I
sail up Dundas street.
my torn coat is my blanket.
When you found me, I was wearing my new half-paralysed body and a hospital gown.
The first thing I said was “where’s my blue coat?”
we laughed about this later.
I’ll sing a coat
I’ll restore its meaning
as, needle and egg in hand, I repair its tears.