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21st Century Poetry Bleeding from More than a Thousand Javelins




Last night I walked down a mile-long hospital corridor
with Nye Bevan. There were no lights, just my old nurse’s torch
and I remembered how I used to run as a student
down empty corridors, afraid of ghosts.

There was a mile-long queue of patients in beds, end to end
by the wall in the lamp-less dark. Nye was tongue-tied.
This is the new normal, I told him. Last week, the brother of a friend
sat in a chair in A & E for twenty-two hours, ghastly with fever,
waiting for one of these corridor beds. Relatives roll up their sleeves
to feed and wash loved ones, I said. His jaw dropped
when he learnt that the NHS is short of fifty-thousand
nurses and midwives. He howled No like a wolf —

society becomes more wholesome, more serene,
and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens
have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge
that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access,
when ill, to the best their medical care can provide.
And then he let rip: no attempts at ethical or social seduction,
can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred
for the Tory party. They are lower than vermin.

I knew he was quoting words from his speech
the day before he shook the hand of the first patient
to be treated by the NHS — thirteen-year-old
Sylvia Beckingham with a diseased kidney.

Not recognising Nye, those awake thought he was canvassing
and cheered, making haloes of light with their phones.
Well, the other day Nicola Sturgeon said she ‘detests the Tories,’
I said, and he said he’d give her a big cwtch. It was as if
every minister for health over the last decade or so, stood
before us as he hollered again into the darkness:
every mistake which you make I shall have to bleed for.
I shall be going about like Saint Sebastian, bleeding
from a thousand javelins, so many people will be complaining.

I urged him to armour for more than a thousand.

A patient making no sense, as he gingerly felt his way
down the mile-long line of beds, kept asking for directions
to Harper’s Bazaar, and in trying to assist, another slipped
in a puddle of piss and fell to the floor, and another, frail,
delirious with sepsis, unable to find the toilet, climbed back into bed
and cuddled up to a woman he thought was his mother, and

Margaret Adkins was a nurse and midwife in a previous life. She now writes. She lives in the West Midlands. 21st-century Poetry is edited by Andy Croft, email [email protected].


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