Freefall

Hurtling unprepared through frozen air,
Propelled in unrestrained and undirected flight,
The ice-rope slithers through the hand,
A momentary grasp,
No crampons to give grip.
No way to know if it is going to be
A gentle slope or headlong slippery slide;
No way to know how long it lasts
Nor how it all will end,
The only certainty that once begun
There can be no return
To that clear and firm plateau
Where others walk, unknowing
The ravening crevasse beckoning below.

Some find the precipice and peer
To watch the downward feared career,
And wonder how it feels to fall so far.
They cannot hear the falling calls,
The breath choked in the throat,
Nor feel the loss of ground beneath the feet.
There's no exhilaration in the slide,
The slick and sickening helter-skelter ride:
The waking sleeper's horror finding nightmare real
Only knows the terror of the fall.

I have here added a single comma ("Where others walk, unknowing"), to guide reading. The last two lines can be difficult to read: there needs to be a very strong emphasis on the "Only" in order to impart the meaning "Only the horror of waking to find a nightmare to be reality can bring understanding of the terror of the fall".

On 29 July 2006 Sandra wrote of Freefall

I completed this piece yesterday. It was started nearly a year ago when I was still undergoing primary treatment, and still in touch with the sheer sickening terror of initial diagnosis, the feeling of being unexpectedly and unwillingly at the mercy of forces beyond my control. Very soon after completing the year of primary treatments I became very ill, was diagnosed with extensive metastatic disease, and was plunged forthwith into further chemotherapy which has also made me very ill. Then a couple of days ago I learned that chemotherapy stopped working, which propelled me into the anxiety zone again, forced to face my uncertain and foreshortened future, and I felt moved to complete this piece. I hope it speaks to others.

This was Sandra's last completed poem. Four days after finishing it, her final illness started; she died three weeks later. It was this poem that I recited at her funeral.