Apart from feeling slightly creepy, it’s curious that when you Google ‘children in hospital’ every single image appears to have been shot by Walt Disney. My own memories of being in hospital as a child take me back to the 1940s, when I had my tonsils and adenoids removed. Like so much in early childhood, every thing that adults did was arbitrary and often puzzling. This wasn’t disturbing. It was normal. Like infant schools in which everything was slightly surreal and you learned not to eat powder paint. On the other hand, being abandoned in a high ceilinged room, in pyjamas, in the daytime, in a room full of vague figures in other beds was terrifying. I was delighted to be sent today’s poem, and I think you’ll be delighted too.
Keeping Schtum : Keith Hutson
I only went in to have my tonsils out.
November the fifth, so we had fireworks
the night before – Dad tossing bangers
as he barked Don’t be so soft!
I wasn’t. And my teddy didn’t come
along because I needed him, or he needed
an operation too, but just in case –
like Kendal Mint Cake on a mountainside.
Bridgewater Hospital. No bridge. No water.
But a lesson learnt. The local workhouse
tarted up, pictures of fairy tales on yellow walls –
witches, wolves disguised as grandmothers,
and run by nurses dressed as nuns.
Was that why they were cross? Shut up!
Along an everlasting corridor, a porter
pushing sheets with someone in them
whistled Tears For Souvenirs, the current
Ken Dodd hit, his follow-up to Happiness.
Doctor Jolly – I kid you not –
laid a cold hand on my neck, whispered
to a sister, left. Then a bigger boy
leaned from his iron bed and hissed
Whatever you do, don’t cry! Keep schtum!
That evening he screamed
as it took two to give him an injection.
What a baby! Watch this child …
One pulled my pyjamas down,
the other stuck her needle in.
See? Not a peep! Do the other
buttock just to show the coward up!
I’m told I didn’t speak a word all week.
Me and the bear know different.
A member of the editorial board of Poetry Salzburg, Keith Hutson is a former Coronation Street and comedy writer. His poetry has been widely published in journals including The North, The Rialto, Stand, Magma, Agenda, and Poetry Salzburg Review. He delivers poetry and performance workshops for The Prince’s Trust and The Square Chapel Centre for the Arts. He has also had several competition successes, and is a Poetry Business Yorkshire Prize winner. Routines (Poetry Salzburg) is his first poetry pamphlet, and forms the basis of a one-man show….you may be in time to catch one in Harrogate this month. A full collection, a Laureate’s Choice title will shortly be published by smith|doorstop. Keith lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire.