[Well, for a few days we’ve had no internet at the home of the cobweb, so I’m playing catch-up now. With luck, there’ll be a regular Sunday poetry post tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s another hospital poem to raise your spirits.]
If I had one serious nightmare as a child it was about polio. There were posters with chilling messages in most bus stations and railway stations; and then there were the kids in your class at primary school. The ones with calipers. Apparently, all it took was not washing your hands, or drinking from someone else’s cup….whatever it was, it was out there, waiting to seize and cripple you. We were given vaccinations that were painful, but could not banish the bad dreams. We don’t know how lucky we are.
Polio Ward : Christopher North
In `52 outside the ward with the glass roof,
summer had beaten down all visiting day.
Parents and uncles came and went away
leaving me ‘Coral Island’, its cover of white strands,
tumbling sea and purple mountains.
Thompson in the bed next to mine,
with his ‘Roy of the Rovers’ and Football Annuals,
liked spitting and just before lights out,
as staff nurse left the ward for the telephone,
he spat on my book cover, a real gobby one.
We flailed, fell from our beds and thrashed about.
I felt no pain in my plastered leg
or he in his as I punched and kicked
and he punched and kicked.
The others laughed at first but then it changed.
They cheered and this gained an edge
as they poled and pushed their beds
into a circle, Bates, Jenkins, Clegg
and the others. They even made a space
so Carter in the iron lung, could see.
Their screams and shouts seemed remote
as if miles away from the fierce urgency
of our mindless struggle on the parquet floor.
Wild cheering brought Staff nurse through the door
and with two other nurses we were dragged apart.
In a side office Docter Parker made us shake hands
and we solemnly did. He took it in good heart
and only cuffed our hair saying if we did it again
we’d be sent off to a private room.
Going back we were heroes: Thompson’s eye swelling,
blood on my pyjamas, so we got claps on the back,
even a hug from callipered Bates, who always got excited,
Jenkins and Cleggie punching the air and Carter,
snot streaming from his nose (which he couldn’t wipe;
he was quadra paralysed), his whisper barely heard
said ‘You were great, that was really great’
and his eyes were shining with every word.
Christopher North’s first collection A Mesh of Wires was short-listed for the Forward Prize in 1999. His second collection, Poems from the Side Benches, was published in 2002. In 1995 he gained a third place in the National Poetry Competition. He has been published in Acumen, Smiths Knoll, Poetry Review, The Independent, Interpreter’s House, Two Rivers et al and anthologised in Smith/Doorstop’s Greek Gifts, the Faber Book of Landscape, Forward 2000 and 2010 and many others.
He has judged several poetry competitions including the Barnet, the Segora, France and the Poetry on the Lake, Italy. He formed and chaired for eight years the Metroland Poets workshop in Buckinghamshire and now runs ‘Stanza Alacant’ which meets monthly at La Seu, University of Alicante in Benissa. He lives in Spain where he runs a centre and retreat for writers and artists in the mountains north of Alicante: And very good it is, too. Take my word for it
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