The boy in the next bed was dying
of a disease with a fine French name.
No fruit, no flowers, no cards
wishing at his side. He had freckles,
curly hair the colour of coal tar soap
and Dr Barnardo’s for a home.
We strayed, whenever nurses looked away,
used Fagin skills to pry Fry’s Chocolate Cream
from the vending machine in Admissions.
The boy leaning on the push
handles of my wheelchair, dragging
numbed feet, sometimes losing a slipper.
At night the pain came stealing.
The boy, a brittle whisper
crept into my bed and I held him
close, close as skin,
nose to nose, forbidden
mint breath clinging.
We drive south into a ferrous wind.
The sky unclenches. Fingers of rust
stain the peaks of Morven and Scaraben,
old blood on a crumpled sheet.
The land trembles with yesterday’s news.
Barbed and shredded. Bales of hay sheathed
in pink stack the sweetness of last summer.
Sheep dot and dash the fields like broken
teeth spat into a steel bowl. Crofts cower,
trees twist into submission. Amputation
-dislocation. Strike a pose. Resistance
is futile. Across the border smoke rises,
thin entrails signalling your departure.
Alone in my hospital room at night I watch tiny particles of dust and fluff swirl beneath the reading lamp. They say dust comprises of dead skin cells, we sweep them away when we clean, removing all trace of our former selves. Our cells are constantly reproducing and every seven years our bodies regenerate anew. Your body is repeatedly recycling itself but not your mind. Your mind is an entirely different story. Our brains become less active, neural pathways die, our memories fade and disappear, we lose skills and alertness, sometimes we even lose our sense of self.
But back in my mean small room, Ward 3A. I’ve been here fourteen weeks now. A reluctant patient, more like prisoner. So every night I sit, sleepless and thoughtless watching the dust and wondering if these are particles of the old me, a shedding of my past life. Occasionally moths enter through the open window and dance wildly in the pool of light, their fragile wings clinking against the electric bulb. Blinded and bewildered they circle. In the morning I find their wispy bodies spent and shrivelled on my sheets.
Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.
A hard hitting poem by English poet, Simon Armitage
Wild as an easterly gale,
on a yellow April day,
you swirled around the grey coast.
Always causing a commotion,
fresh with a smile, a banter
and a sunshine wave.
The first time I saw you was in The Com,
dancing with a chicken leg between your teeth,
see-through as your sparkly top.
You liked Robbie Williams and a beer,
a fag in the sun with your mates,
leaning against the wall, chewing up the day.
The last time I saw you was at the Chippie Van.
Thinner, hair cut short and night in your eyes,
laughing too much, teasing all the guys.
You never got that coffee at mine
or the Spanish holiday, only brief escape
to Witherspoons for one final, sweet latte.
I wish I’d known you better,
the granite girl with a sherbet heart.
I brought daffodils a day too late,
a sudden gust had taken you away.
So wherever you are Loopy Linda,
fly free and blow a hurricane.
This poem was written in memory of Linda P, died March 21st, 2013.
In the old days I was Canis Marinus, Dog of the Sea.
I was born in a mangrove swamp of the Antipodes,
abandoned by Ma at first swim to the murky
mysteries of waves, death and capitalism.
I was crated frozen to the Land of the Free.
Now they call me Tiger, Blue, Hammerhead,
Great White, Art-wank. I prefer Sea-Dog
but they call me shock, ragged, monster, demon
or jaws (cue scary music and pearly sharps to die for)
the perfect engine and eating machine, soulless
beast, killer of slaves and pretty girls in bikinis.
I can morph into fin soup, a Chinese delicacy
or a shifty money lender. A role model for the aspiring
acolytes of Damien or a trophy tanked up on formalin
stinking behind the thin glass wall of privilege.
Predators queue and gawp
at the impossible.
I stare straight back
and what’s more
I never blink.
I was inspired to write this poem after seeing Damien Hirst’s so-called conceptual art entitled ‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. I found it disturbing to see a wild creature exploited and displayed in an art gallery. My feelings of distaste and anger increased when I later learned that Hirst had several Tiger Sharks killed for his art work. Even though the sharks are preserved in formaldehyde they start to decompose after a few years and need to be replaced. Other animals have also been killed by Hirst for his art, including cows and calves for the piece titled ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’. I find the morality of this indefensible. It is one thing to kill for food or survival but not for art or entertainment. Hirst’s pickled shark was sold for millions.
I also find it sad that humans have a tendency to demonise and label as ‘other’ anyone who is different from themselves, this includes other species, races, religions, sexual orientations, disability, etc. Even sharks can respond positively to kindness and afffection. They are not the vicious, mindless monsters portrayed by our culture but a beautiful creature trying to survive the best it can, just like the rest of us. Please watch this amazing YouTube video showing a shark conservationist petting and playing with a shark. Perhaps they are truly the dogs of the sea.