A few people wanted me to put together some of my poems – old and new; some about health and healthcare (some not) – in one blog. So, here we go. Hope you like them.
When Mum Describes a Horse
When mum describes a horse
she has seen from her low bed
galloping across the white wall
or through it
we cough and fetch another
glass of water, slip back,
resume the wait and look past
the ward to where
the prints of hooves
on the muddy path
tracking the edge of the car park
are heading home.
we see it
race to the lip of the hill
and turn a final time.
Folding the Sheets
I loved to help my mother in the garden
take down sun- and wind-dried sheets
from the sagging washing line, propped up
in the middle by an old wooden pole.
She’d unclip the clothes pegs one by one,
drop them in an empty terracotta pot
and offer me the edge of a crinkled sheet.
We faced each other: partners in a dance
peering across vast cotton waves,
arms spread out, gripping our corners,
watching each other’s every move
bringing together the opposing leaves,
folding, refolding… until she reeled us in
to meet halfway. She kissed my nose
and whisked the bundle out of my hands.
The linen piled high in the wicker basket.
Now I can mirror her with eyes closed,
senses narrowing on the task and line,
opening up to the sound of sparrows,
from the branches of the damson tree.
The Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamus
These days, the Preferred Place of Care
(or PPC) according to academics
is The Home or The Hospice.
Dad prefers to ignore
the finality of words
and officiates from Bed 6 on Ward 11E
with parting gifts
as we gather
in comfy chairs provided
by the Project Coordinator for the Patient Pathway (or Matron)
and Betty, the cleaner.
He doesn’t want to go home.
He refuses the sweetened pleas of bed managers
to go home. This is home.
Contained by the, at last, certainty
of the rhythmic swish of the morphine pump
and ward rounds.
He swears the profile of a golden lioness
rises glowering from the trees
overlooking The Heath
and the paths where we handfed
Nuthatches, Chaffinches and Robins.
Fewer of them now.
He is more tired today.
I feed him slow spoonfuls
of leek and potato soup
tell him that Samuel
went to the zoo yesterday
held out his hand to touch
the Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamus
almost wiped out by civil war.
That Adam wants to bring it home.
I slid between rooms
And scissoring magazines
Limbs became heavier
And heavier to operate
I sat cross-legged
Fending off evil
While the bedroom wall
Grew dangerously thin
The black house began
Its whispering plots
My brother was sent
With poisoned Jaffa Cakes
Then came the scraping
And bleeding sound
Of thousands of chairs
Falling over themselves
Of telephone calls
Rose wailing and wolf-like
Four men arrived
Serious and muscular
The quiet jab came
And my mother’s voice:
Please look after him
I’m curled into a ball
on a thin mattress on the floor
covered with a crinkly nylon sheet
smelling faintly of sick and piss.
Outside the heavy brown door
sits Len, muscly, tanned,
with the Mirror crossword.
Not much older than me,
he’s done his fair share
of hurtling down corridors
readying needles full of Depixol
to slam into the arses of lunatics
like me I suppose.
As my sobbing slows
I hear him humming tunelessly
and clicking the end of his pen:
‘Mate, your mum said
you didn’t use to be such a dickhead.
Let’s see. Try this for starters:
French for dead-end, 3-2-3?’
She would be carried down dark roads
like they were rivers. Adrift on a wild mind
far from others, in worn out red slippers
and flowery unbuttoned nightgown. God knows
where Gran might finally wash up. We didn’t.
So mum sat up late in the unheated lounge
unlistening to The Swan, by Saint-Saëns
that dad put on to soothe her, biting
her lip and gnawing the quick of her nails
tea lukewarm, on guard for the call
from Harrow or Moorgate Police Station
following reports from a drunk accosted
by a skinny old lady ranting in German
or from a cabbie who’d tried to make peace
and been thumped repeatedly over the head
with that umbrella she carried everywhere
even when sunny. Once, she was found
cowering, taunted by teens in hysterics:
Loony, loony, mad fucking bitch.
And when dad brought her back, she’d sit
frozen, bolt upright, stiff, beaten
hollowed out by the ravages of thought
the kitchen drained and everything so still
I could hear the wind and the birds
begin to sing. Her hair wet, face white.
The low slung bundle of thick, frayed, red, green
and grey wires that ran between the old stroke wards
curving up to the brown fuse box near the top
of the towering wooden pylons, then slouching
down and across the car park to disappear behind
the temporary canteen in the portakabin
Once I came this way
with the matron from the psychiatric ward
to hunt for spare bedsheets. And on the way back
I stared up and thought to cradle myself
amongst their woven threads and pump of pure
energy that might wrest me from another night
on those crackling bedsheets.
These days, there stands
the maternity unit where my sons were born.
The Baby Starling
When the church bells stopped
and the empty courtyard filled with birdsong
I thought of the baby starling without a tail
that had fluttered into the Italian restaurant
and startled the woman
who spilled minestrone onto her best dress
then threatened to send them the laundry bill
while her friends killed themselves laughing
and the way some children
born in towns, never get to the ocean
and how I could have taken mum
to Vienna one more time. And how
when everything turned out alright again,
you looked at me and said: There, you see?
The World Is Full of Toilets To Cry In
Old smelly ones of course, uninspected, with cracked floor tiles, damp inglorious seats and broken locks, where one tap gushes forever hot and the dryer doesn’t work, even if you bang it several times. And where you’re not so poorly as to fail to notice the plethora of metaphors.
I can feel more at home in posh ones, conference centres, government agencies and four star hotels (you can sometimes sneak in if you’re desperate) where Mozart streams in from unidentifiable wall speakers and the soap and incense sticks, in your justifiable fury, are easily nicked.
There was one (after she left me) where the urinals were ringed in a hazy ultraviolet light like the one in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (though maybe I’m wrong. She said I was a lot of the time. Maybe it was white). It could be some sort of futuristic antiseptic. But it had me so captivated that I forgot. For a while.
But mostly I prefer the everyday ones, in railway stations or shopping centres, just about clean enough mostly, to let you know you’re alright in the end, not too shiny to make you feel awkward for feeling so rubbish. And at least you’re never alone. I don’t mind paying 20p for one of those.
1962 (Little Bird)
She looks down at me. Garrincha
The Little Bird
wins the World Cup for Brazil.
In a storeroom on the third floor
in Ramleh Prison, Tel Aviv,
next to a makeshift scaffold,
a chair is kicked. Eichmann hangs
and his ashes are scattered over the Mediterranean.
Dr. Ronald A. Malt reattaches
the severed right arm of Everett Knowles (age 12).
Later he’ll be able to move all five fingers
and bend his wrist, later still play tennis.
Marilyn Monroe is found naked.
Dr No gets rave reviews.
London trolley buses return
to the garages for the last time.
Kennedy is late
for the first Trans-Atlantic Telstar satellite image.
They show a baseball game instead –
the Philadelphia Phillies versus Chicago Cubs.
Rod Laver beats Roy Emerson
in the French and US Open,
Martin Mulligan at Wimbledon
(6-2, 6-2, 6-1)
Trouble brews over Cuba.
Eight planets align for the first time in 400 years
Nelson Mandela is arrested.
Ringo replaces Pete Best
A bear becomes the first creature
to be ejected at supersonic speed.
An Air France 707 crashes on takeoff.
Assia meets Ted.
Crick & Wilkins determine the structure of DNA.
Lee Harvey Oswald arrives by train in Oldenzaal
then leaves from Rotterdam on the SS Maasdam for the USA.
Three convicts use spoons
to dig their way out of Alcatraz.
My mother looks down
and calls me her Little Bird.
(c) David Gilbert 2016