How are you feeling? Hospital poems (10)

0ced004788921c73ef84bff2badcc17e--empty-spaces-open-spaces

 

Diagnosis and prognosis…those meetings with consultants, the bearers sometimes of news that drops the bottom out of the world. And then there’s the world I can barely imagine much as I empathise, or try to. The world of the maternity and fertility clinic. It’s a world that’s beautifully and bravely written by women poets I love …Fiona Benson and Wendy Pratt especially. This is a short post with a short poem (if wordcount matters). I think it’s huge and resonant and heartbreaking

 

Cycle   :   Becky Cherriman

 

Your words clot,

heavy and obliterating as snowfall

and the facial expression you adopt…

Is this what is deemed to be appropriate, Doctor?

 

Too long have I clung on

for the saccharine pill of your wisdom,

for this,

 

for test results shuffled between sweatless palms

and luke-greened walls.

Not even the reassuring ear of the stethoscope.

Just, Unfortunately…

and a solitary bird in the tree outside calling,

ste r ile

ste r ile

ste r ile.

 

empires front cover

 

Becky Cherriman is a commissioned writer, creative writing facilitator and prize-winning performer based in Leeds.  Her work is informed by the belief that not only do writing and the spoken word help us to make sense of the world and our place in it but they provide us with the tools to transform our lives.

Becky’s poem ‘Jesus Lives’ was highly commended for the Forward Prizes 2018

Becky’s poetry pamphlet Echolocation was published by Mother’s Milk Books in February 2016. Her first collection Empires of Clay was released by  Cinnamon Press in November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becky Cherriman is a commissioned writer, creative writing facilitator and prize-winning performer based in Leeds.  Her work is informed by the belief that not only do writing and the spoken word help us to make sense of the world and our place in it but they provide us with the tools to transform our lives.

Becky’s poem ‘Jesus Lives’ was highly commended for the Forward Prizes 2018

Becky’s poetry pamphlet Echolocation was published by Mother’s Milk Books in February 2016. Her first collection Empires of Clay was released by  Cinnamon Press in November 2016.

 

 

How are you feeling? Hospital poems (9)

I find it astonishing and wonderful, the extent to which the NHS employs incredibly complex and clever technology on a daily basis. The fact that I don’t understand what any of it is doing no longer fazes me. I think of the thousands of hours I’ve spent under the bonnets of cars, and, indeed, under cars, replacing various bits and pieces. When I look under the bonnet of a car now it’s to refill the screenwash. I understand nothing else that I look at. I have no idea what any of it does. But it doesn’t stop me getting in the car switching on the engine, and assuming that it’ll all work. And the fact is, it works a lot better than all those cars I owned that I knew how to mend (mainly because they broke down, and my new cars don’t). It’s not a precise analogy, but I think of it every time I read this poem that my co-author Andy Blackford sent me. He sent it from his hospital bed in Papworth, waiting for a bit of kit that would make his heart more reliable. God bless the NHS.

hospital 10

On the blink

 

Two screens flank this clever bed.

 

One is my Hospimedia.

The News looks bad – the picture’s slashed

by pixelated bands,

the sound is intermittent.

The email has a dodgy keyboard

doubling up one characcter, deleting three.

 

The other screen is monitoring me.

It’s picked up nasty habits

from its wayward friend.

The trace that should be docile and predictable

is bucking like a bullock in an abattoir.

 

Be still, my pixelating heart.

 

[First published in Gap Year: [Andy Blackford and John Foggin. SPM Publications 2017.]

If you want to see more of Gap Year , it’s available via the My Books link on the home page. You can find out about Andy Blackford and more of his poetry if you follow these links:

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2016/08/21/but-i-was-so-much-older-then-gems-revisited-andy-blackford/

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2014/09/15/mind-the-gap-and-another-undiscovered-gem-andy-blackford/

 

How are you feeling? Hospital poems (8)

[An explanation seems to be needed. I’ve had a few messages asking how I am. I should explain that I’m having routine procedures and hospital visits, as I have for the last eight years. They have only the most tenuous connection to this series of posts that started as an ill-thought-through comment on Facebook. Anyway, thankyou for your concerns…and I love you for them, but rumours of my impending demise are grossly exaggerated]

I’m not ever entirely sure why, but hospitals make me feel simultaneously submissive/subservient and stroppy/transgressive. Nurses make me feel guilty of breaches of etiquette that have never been explained. And then there are other patients: the ones who are lost, like the old man in the bed next to mine some years ago, who was crying because he was having nightmares and he thought he was going mad. No one had told him what big doses of morphine can do for your dreams; and the patients who have no idea of etiquette of any sort or the notion of personal space; and the patients you begin to feel responsible for even though you can take no responsibility for yourself. All of this muddle of confused social and emotional relationship is what I found in today’s poem.

hospital 11

Touching the Edge : Hilary Elfick

There is a clang in the radiator pipe
Running the length of the ward.
Lying here face up
Impossible to tell
Whether the brass end of a curtain pull
Swings swings against it
Or an air bubble, unnoticed by nurses,
Comes round like a regular train.
By that clang clang clang
I can time my pain.

The other end of the ward
Blind Mrs. Popple struggles to the lavatory.
‘Nurse, see to Mrs. Popple.
She is out of bed again.’
Quiet husband talks softly
To his sleeping wife.
She never wakes.
They insist he perseveres.

Pain creeps up the back of my neck
Like a colony of worker ants
Mining their way into poised positions.
First a steady throbbing
Till sight vibrates
Then sudden rise of screaming.
Are the ants screaming?
Is it possible that I can still
Be lying here in silence?
How far can a brain vibrate and live?

Here she comes with the injection
Again into bruised and bloated thigh.
The sharp plunge distracts for an instant
Till rolling back brings the waves
To pound pound pound the sides of my skull.
Wait. Only fifteen minutes. Wait.

Gradually the sounds withdraw
And darkness comes
Bringing misshapen shadows,
Nightmares creeping into
The confused cavity of my skull.
Fear beyond and under all fear
Till deepest bathyscope sleep.

Awareness returns slowly.
The clang is muffled.
Mrs. Popple is being rescued.

Memory steps back hesitantly
And only with permission –
The illusion of control.

Hour later, eyes make decision to open.
Around my bed surprising screens
And a nurse – Chinese, businesslike.
My perceptions range round
The pattern of roses on the cotton screen,
The watch pinned to the white apron,
The colours of her skin
And the dark gloss of her hair
Clipped beneath the absurd cap.
The odd sounds are explained
By her small fingers
Clicking her pen in and out.
Our eyes engage.

‘Ah. You wake.
I am to sit with you all the time.
I have to shine my torch in your eyes
Every two hours
And take your pressure.’
Round my flabby arm she wraps
Firmly the heavy rubber sheath.
‘Oh dear me, I forgot.’
She is gone through the crack in the screen.
The rubber wrap impossibly imprisons.
Exhausting struggle to free it.
She returns. ‘Oh why did you do that?
Naughty girl! Now I must do it again.’
How old is this child?
She pumps. Counts. Writes on her pad.
Shines her torch. Takes my pulse.
Drops my wrist. Places her pad
Firmly on my feet.
Sits again.
Slowly, thickly, ‘What is happening?’
‘You must not ask questions.
You are too ill. That’ (importantly)
‘Is why I am to sit here.
You are not to be alone.’

Silently, why? In case I leave?
Does she think I plan to die,
Discharge myself without formal permission?
Clang goes the water pipe. Clang.
‘How long did I sleep?’
‘You slept two hours. You should not ask.
You will sleep two hours
And wake two hours
And every four hours I shall inject you
Because of your pain.’
And every two hours she will shine her torch
And feel my pulse and take my pressure.
That is what will happen
And now I must be quiet.
And every unknown time
The clang will beat in the radiator pipes
That run the length of the room
And the man will murmur to his wife
And Mrs. Popple, who does not have permission,
Will be out of bed again.

First published in author’s collection ‘The Horse Might Sing’,
Envoi 1990, ISBN 0948478 66 7

 

Hilary Elfick was a broadcaster: 100 scripts for the BBC; producer, BBC Radio 4; subsequently on radio/television in New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, and featured on BBC Radio 2 and BBC World Service. Her solo performances have been in theatres, cathedrals, libraries, hospices, and bookshops and, recently, in the Poetry Café in Canberra.  It would take for longer than we have space for to list all her poetry collections. Just look her up on Google. And because she’s been a cobweb guest before you can follow this link for more poems

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2015/11/15/tipping-the-scales-polished-gem-13-hilary-elfick/

How are you feeling? Hospital poems (7)

[I’m falling down on the job, today.  Busy entertaining, cooking and catering and what have you. Busy trying to sort out next week. It turns out, when I finally attend to things, I have at least three hospital appointments next week, one of which means I shall be missing one of the launch events at the Leadmill in Sheffield for ‘One for the Road’…the poems- about -pubs anthology curated by Helen Mort and Stuart Maconie. I was due to read one of mine, and looking forward to it. Bugger. As we say in the literary business. With one thing and another, I don’t think I can do justice to a post I’d planned about ‘sequences’. What I will say as a teaser that there are some stellar contributors to the piece. So, gala event next week. In the meantime. I’ll keep it all ticking over with a daily helping of hospital poems, which, in the manner of Blue Peter, I’d already prepared. Thank you for flying with “the great fogginzo’s cobweb” xx]

hospitaldreaming

I can put up with most of the experience of being in hospital. After all, you tell yourself, it’ll be over, eventually. So you resign yourself to the abrupt switch from night to day, the buzz of neon tubes firing up, the arbitrary bustle, the sheer influx of people. The talk. You settle for eating the food, believing that you need to feed yourself up, get strong, get out. You grit your teeth at the regal progress of the consultant on his morning rounds, with the gaggle of knackered junior doctors at his heels, his offensive breeziness. You even learn to accept being pummelled and plumped straight by certain bed-tidying nurses. But the nights are different. The world goes out, the lights go dim, though it’s never dark. Voices become disembodied. Voices cry out in pain. Old men shout. In High Dependency it is, if anything, worse, attached as you are to machines with oscillating colourful screens, to drips, to drains, to catheters and a stent in your hand that delivers (or doesn’t) your morphia. I don’t know that anyone  ever warned me about, or prepared me for, morphine-induced nightmares, the disorientating surrealism of it all. Hence today’s poems. I’m indulging myself and putting one of my own in as a companion to the guest poet’s memory.

 

Little Acheron  :    Maria Taylor

You must have sipped from the water

on the night they took you in.

Sometimes I hear the river murmur

when you cry, so I slip underwater.

 

Hooves suddenly, this is how it feels;

I must have fallen asleep again

so I rise, making sure the curtains

are drawn and notice the cloth is fraying

 

to a dull peach. Bear with me,

I am not used to the metallic cadences

of machines, or the sight of ghosts

out-staring me in mirrors.

 

You sleep now, but the river wants

to rush in and I am struggling to keep

the curtains drawn. I breathe in the air

now dense with water, we should be quiet.

 

(Little Acheron: First published in ‘Melanchrini’ [Nine Arches Press 2012]

 

High Dependency   :  John Foggin

 

I’m split like a fig parched as old newsprint

listening to Mrs Mumtaz’ murmuring daughters

longing for sweet sips of water in a shimmer

of saffron plum and emerald chinks and gleams

of gold of bracelets finely threaded scarves

the exact and beautiful pleats of the turban

of Mr Mumtaz who sits by the ghost of his wife

cobwebbed with morphine and the whispers

of slender daughters exotic and wary as birds

embroidering me dreams where no stitches pluck

where there are no drains or snaky tubes

no oscillating screens no stupidity of pain

that’s somewhere in this room and might be mine

(First published in Gap Year by Andy Blackford and John Foggin [SPMPublications 2017])

 

Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor’s poems have been published in a range of magazines including Ambit, Magma, Stand  and The Rialto. Her debut collection Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press) was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize in 2013. Her pamphlet, Instructions for making me (Happenstance) was published earlier this year. She is also reviews editor for Under the Radar magazine. She lives in Leicestershire and can be found blogging at miskinataylor.blogspot.co.uk

 

 

How are you feeling? Poems about hospital (6)

[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.]

polio 2

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

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

Almàssera Vella
Carrer de la Mare de Deu del Miracle 56
Relleu 03578
Alicante SPAIN
x34 966 856003
http://www.oldolivepress.com     e-mail: christopher@oldolivepress.co

 

 

 

How are you feeling? Poems about hospitals (5)

child_hospicemed

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.

 

 

A Grenfell Alphabet and a polished gem: Ruth Valentine

_96481954_grenfell2afp

I’ve wanted to have Ruth Valentine as a guest on the cobweb ever since I heard her read at the Albert Poets some months ago. Sometimes at readings, I find my attention slipping. Sometimes it’s because of a poet’s style of delivery, sometimes because I can’t find a foothold in the subject matter, no matter how good the delivery is, sometimes because there are none of those moments that Clive James writes about, bemoaning the state of poetry:

” Slim volumes by the thousand…full of poetry…but few….with even a single poem in them”

I do rather bang on about this, but I hang on to what he says about  ‘a poem’ being  something that we hear at first glance, something with a moment that memorizes itself for you, something you cannot remember precisely but which you can never forget.

“…whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in “

Here’s the first of those moments in Ruth Valentine’s reading  that had me sitting up and attending, all those months ago, and that continues to memorise itself:

“The dead are out reconfiguring the maps

on the Transport for London website. They’re joy-riding…”

from Scatter -Tube.  [Downpour 2015]

I’ll come back to this before long. I’m taking a day off from a succession of posts about hospitals, and it strikes me as a bit of synergy that while those posts started by chance simply because of an incautious query on Facebook, I never raised the question of what happens to those who go into hospitals and don’t come out. I tend to steer clear of the business of death (as opposed to dying, which as Bob Dylan pointed out, we’re all busily doing). Almost, that is. I’m of an age when I’m more likely to be going to funerals rather than christenings or weddings. I’ve written more eulogies than wedding speeches. And I’ve written poems about crematoria and the aftermath…the various catered gatherings where we dry our tears, relax into stories of the departed, and feel more alive than we felt earlier that morning. We being the ones still alive and more aware of it. But what about those for whom the business of tidying up the dead is a profession and a daily task? Well, we tend not to talk about them, any more than we are particularly conscious of all those necessary people who tidy up our waste and make our lives more comfortable and pleasant. (I’m suddenly reminded of U A Fanthorpe’s hospital and office cleaners….but who speaks for the binmen, the sewer workers, and those in abbatoirs, the sweepers of streets…..? That may be for another post). Now, there’s much much more to the poetry of Ruth Valentine as we’ll see.

The Smokestack introduction to her collection Downpour is a good place to start:

Ruth Valentine has worked as an undertaker and as a celebrant at secular funerals. In Downpour she draws on her experiences to compose an extended meditation on dying and death, its emotional grammar and its painful but necessary rituals. Bleak and brave, serious and sad, Downpour is an unflinching study of the physical realities of dying. Bodies are prepared for burial, coffin lids are closed, and scattered ashes sail downriver. An old man’s coffin enters the furnace, his memories becoming part of the wider world. The invisible dead joy-ride through London at night and the disinterred dead stir in Bosnia and Baghdad. Ruth Valentine explores the geography of death – hospital corridors and waiting rooms, winter tides, tearful winds and rain-swept cemeteries – and considers the strangers – doctors, mortuary assistants and undertakers – who must escort us towards oblivion, conscious of ‘their own death and your death, / the death of the planet and the death of hope’.

I think that sounds dreadfully bleak, but what struck me when I heard her read was poetry that was crafted, tender, reverential, funny…a celebration of life.

Let me go back to the joy-riding dead on the London Underground. Ruth told the backstory of how one night she finds herself with big carrier bags full of the departed. That is, of a number of cardboard cylinders of ashes that need to be returned to the living. I guess many of us have darkly comic anecdotes that involve the disposal of the ashes of loved ones. One of mine involve the ashes being reverentially tipped off one of the Derbyshire Edges where the deceased liked to walk and climb. They were promptly seized by the updraft and returned in a gritty cloud to the bereaved who had to wash that man right out of their hair. That kind of story. Ruth’s poems are richer and infinitely more moving than that. When you buy Downpour (as you must), start with Part 2. Let these moments memorize themselves,fix themselves in your eye and your mind

“She has thrown her head back

as if snoring, as if

stargazing, lying star-shaped in a field,

with birdsfoot trefoil, speedwell, small bright things”

[Calico ]

“This woman so short of breath no longer needs it,

like someone who was always short of money

but wins the lottery…”

[The fiery furnace]

“Then in that moment everything he’s seen

in eighty-five years spills out from his eyes

into the winter air, like snow falling

steadily out of nothing…”

[Like snow]

But don’t fail to notice the living who we leave to deal with the practical business of the dead.

You go out the back for a cigarette. The rain’s let up.

And this : OK, Maureen we say, and lift the beech lid of the coffin, lower it over the calico and her face”

And linger on ‘The dead (who) have discovered a new way of getting home /from the mock-Gothic chapel on the South Circular,/ in a bluebell-printedcardboard cylinder”

That’s the kind of thing I meant when I said her poetry is crafted, tender, reverential, funny…a celebration of life.

What else do we need to know before we share some more poems?

Ruth  grew up in Sussex, but has lived most of her adult life in London. She has been a teacher, advice worker, voluntary sector manager and consultant. Currently, as well as writing, she conducts secular funerals. She began writing seriously at the age of forty. In 1992 she was one of the  Society’s New Poets. Her poems have won prizes and been included in a number of anthologies; Variations on a Theme of Chardin appeared on the DART railway in Dublin. In 2000, looking for a new direction in her writing, she enrolled on the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Her novel, The Jeweller’s Skin, was the somewhat unexpected result.She has also published a history of Horton Hospital (Asylum, Hospital, Haven, Riverside Mental Health Trust, 1996), and two books on welfare issues for schools. Her prose piece, Stalking the Tiger, based on her research at Horton, is included in Iain Sinclair’s London, City of Disappearances (Hamish Hamilton 2006).

In her website (http://ruthvalentine.co.uk/index.php/about/) she writes. “I write poetry, novels and short stories, and non-fiction. You can find details here of my published work, and sample poems and extracts.  Go to the poetry page for details of my latest books, Downpour and Rubaiyat for the Martyrs of Two Wars.  To this we can add A Grenfell Alphabet [2017].    

Right. More poetry. Ruth sent me several  poems, but I’ll choose this one particularly because I love the effortless down-to-earthness, its easily worn and unobtrusive cosmopolitanism, so different from the kind that seems designed to belittle my awkward provincialism. I’ll not comment on it, except to say I love that line:

the number one station for dying in must be..

Just enjoy it for the craft of it. There’s a lot more to Ruth Valentine than funeral parlours.

like tolstoy

 1

 Not in hospital; nobody wants that.

Nor the pale-blue rooms and communal eating-spaces

of the hospice, however kindly. Not alone

on an industrial estate in Switzerland,

being filmed stating Yes I understand

if I drink this liquid… Not even in bed at home

surrounded by sobbing family, Victorian

fantasy of reunion and forgiveness.

 

Since it’s going to happen and won’t be dignified,

you could do a lot worse than a railway station

waiting room. Say Barnham, where after class

with the boys from the boys’ school we dawdled for the connection:

coal fire, view of the station pub, a playground,

mourners hurrying up from the underpass.

2

I’ve certainly known some beautiful railway stations.

St Pancras before it became a shopping-mall

and they hid the trains: wood-panelled ticket-office,

six empty tracks leading the mind north

past the gasometers to an improbable

state of grace; or Milan with its Day Hotel,

where you could have a shower and a change of clothes

in time for your Last Supper with Leonardo.

 

But the number one station for dying in

must be Ljubljana: the driving snow, the boys

off to art college in Venice, the gun-metal

socialist-realist trains, their sides announcing

the life beyond: Budapest, Bucharest,

Prague, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Athens.

3

 You’re not taking this seriously. It’s not about

childhood or tourism or the early years

of your marriage. You are deciding where to die,

assuming you have a choice and aren’t knocked down

by a single-decker bus at Turnpike Lane,

or a heart attack in the Parkway ladies’ toilets.

It’s losing control of your body, shamefully,

and your mind, which will stop writing poetry forever.

 

So what you need is less the architecture

(though a final view of a vaulted wrought-iron roof

would do for transcendence) than the sound of trains

leaving for cities you can dream about

in the final minutes, and busy humanity

with its suitcases and phones and sudden weeping.

 

grenfell

I’m going to finish with what I think has become the unexpected purpose of this post. Ruth has just published A Grenfell Alphabet. The money from every copy sold will go to the disaster fund. That’s one reason why you should buy it. The other reason is that it’s beautiful. Regular readers will know of my enthusiasm for Christy Ducker’s sequence Grace Darling’s ABC [Skipper. smith|doorstop]…it’s such a simple and apparently artless way of organising a sequence, of listing what we should love and what we cannot replace. Ruth writes a poem for each floor of the Grenfell Tower, its imagined occupants, their small private concerns, the stuff of their everyday lives. Like these

Floor 1

In the burning high-rise hive there are alphabets,

Arabic Tamil Ge’ez, there are apricots

brought from the market

today for their flame soft skin, and animals,

real animals, a jerbil, a terrapin

its tank-water heating up

don’t think of that.

 

 

Floor 2

Think instead about birthday-cards, a shelf

with a whole year of good wishes, and books of course,

school-books, novels, encyclopaedias

left by a grandfather, Haynes manuals,

gardening books for the allotment farmers,

books printed in faraway alphabets,

Hindi Cyrillic Chinese, yes, lots of books.

 

That phrase Don’t think of that is a repeated admonition through the sequence, and it gathers layers of significance as it’s repeated. Reverential, loving, desperately angry, cleareyed, it’s a pamphlet and a eulogythat reminds us of our common humanity, the vandalism of our fragile social contract in the last decade. Every British politician should be forced to read it over and over until the enormity of their sleep of reason sinks in. Please buy this book. Buy lots. Buy them for your friends. You can buy it via PayPal.  Find a way to pay more than £5.00 a copy. Why not £10…..

grenfell 1

follow this link.  https://www.facebook.com/A-Grenfell-Alphabet-167564637148776/

And then hit that PayPal button.

Ruth Valentine…thank you for being our guest and for sharing your poetry. xxxx

PS. You can help to spread the word by Sharing and re-blogging this post. I’ll be grateful.