Fifteenth April: Choosing Pillowcases for the NHS. A poem by Claire Cox

I’m surprised at the thorns that prick my heart,
my gut. This humble act. Picking out linen.
Those keepsakes, their usefulness passed down
the female line. Nan’s perfect ironing,
my mum’s swollen knuckles smoothing
a newly made bed to flatness.
Memory threads through each weft of white cotton.
My mother-in-law’s flannelette for winter warmth,
hausfrau practical, post-war, no nonsense.
The crumpled orange pillowcase, which held my mum’s
mink stole safe in the camphorwood chest –
its glamour outmoded, its sleekness shameful.
How many to keep? How many to give away?
Will we ever have guests again, overnight stays?
I take stock: two cases per pillow, an inner, an outer,
a trick picked up from my mother-in-law’s diligence.
Why the difficulty? Why such attachment to old
cotton bags? I keep the ones with matching duvets,
two with Chinese embroidery I remember
from childhood. I give nine. Promise myself
I’ll give more, later. Concoct reassurances
about keeping some by for the next wave
(there may be a next wave). Briefly imagine
the medics at their work, now, while I dither
fingering the cloth: their hands are in latex gloves
busy tending patients, coaxing air
into tattered lungs – those other, living bags
our final days can drown in.
Born in Hong Kong, Claire now lives and works in Oxfordshire. She is Associate Editor for ignitionpress, and is currently a part-time practice-based PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London studying poetry and disaster.


  1. Fantastic poem, and sentiments. Thank you.

    1. You’re very welcome, Moira. Thanks for reading it.

  2. A very touching poem Claire, thankyou!

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