Clive James on his illness

Clive James – the great Australian critic, poet, writer and performer – was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2010. He has continued to read and write, voraciously, while he receives treatment at Cambridge’s Addenbrooke hospital.

Nurses are on my mind of late. At Addenbrooke’s I see them all the time, and I expect the day will soon come when I see almost nobody else. Bless them, of all colors and creeds.

Just after I first got ill, and while I was waiting for my prostate operation, I was wearing my urinary tract externally, in an arrangement featuring a catheter plus a hefty bag taped to my leg. Or anyway it was hefty when it was full. One night the bag broke and suddenly the floor was awash with amber piss. I signaled the night nurse, who told me to stop apologizing. (In such circumstances, I have found, one tends to apologize for one’s mere existence.) She set about mopping it up. She had a deformed body, with limbs all the wrong lengths. Life could not have been easy for her. But now she was making the end of life easier for me. It was a night to remember, and I haven’t forgotten it for a second. I can only hope that the sum total of my writings has been as useful to the world as her kindness, but I doubt that this is so.

The New Yorker has just published his poem ‘Visitation of the dove’:

I do not wish to leave yet. If I can

I will stay on

And see another autumn, having got

This far with all my strength not yet quite gone.

Click here to read the poem.