How are you feeling? Hospital poems (13)

While I’ve been putting these hospital posts together, one troubling memory bubbles to the surface. I’ve twice been in High Dependency doped up with morphine. It takes the pain away, but one side effect is disorientating dreams that morph happily into nightmare. Mine seems not especially disturbing when I describe it. In essence, the ward would somehow become a cross-Channel ferry, and particularly something like the car deck. The walls would constantly and unnervingly change position; spaces became notional and unreliable. I suspect this may have had something to do with the way the curtaining round each bed is constantly being closed and opened so that the ward is a space with an infinite number of rooms. Whatever it was, I dreaded it and the way it persisted for months afterwards. Which is why today’s poem struck me with a moment of instant recognition.



Selkie Games  : Andy Humphrey


In the white room

a nurse holds my wrists,

dabs me with disinfectant-soaked cotton.

A kindly burning.


In the white room

I’m given a plastic cup

with a liquid that smells of blackberries

and tastes like soggy almonds.


In the white room

I’m allowed to dream

while two electrodes count the pulses in my brow,

two pens mark spikes on a chart.


And when I dream

the bed beneath me falls away

and I’m carried on cold fat rivers to the place

where the sea meets the sky;


and it’s there I discover

I can unzip my human skin,

stretch into a world of seaweed and blue

with fingers made for swimming.


They dance with me,

my sisters, among the reefs

where watching eyes will never spy us out.

We touch noses, kiss underwater;


our breath is bubbles

caught in a moonbeam’s glimmer,

our heartbeats follow the rising and falling

of every wave, each tide.


The dreaming stops.

I zip up my skin, return

to the white room. The too-bright world,

garish, cold in its glare.


I let them prod,

knowing they will never

unstitch me, never drown the aftertaste

of wet peat in my mouth.


Andy Humphrey lives in York; his poetry draws on images from nature, myth and fairytale to spin contemporary tales with an undercurrent of social comment. He has had more than 50 poems published in a wide range of journals, and won numerous poetry awards including seven First Prizes in UK and international competitions.

He writes short stories (under the name A.J. Humphrey with publication in Dark Tales, Scribble, and in anthologies from Earlyworks Press, Stairwell Books, Bridge House Publishing and Words magazine.

His debut poetry collection, A Long Way to Fall, was published in May 2013 by Lapwing Publications


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