No 167 - 2002
The Year of the Crab
Intimations of Mortality
In fading English summer where, quite soon,
the wistful autumn would begin its fall
before the winter bared its moon-white fangs,
he planned escape from winds that pierce and hurt:
he booked a flight to a winterless land
of speedwell sky and vanilla sand.
Already, though, a vague discomfort stirred;
pain’s pallid shadow and its soundless trill
flickered in his throat.
The Doctor said
‘It’s thrush,’ and gave him lozenges to suck.
The ache remained. Again, the same prescription,
but no change; slight darkening of the shade perhaps,
invading places other than the flesh.
Weeks sidled past; leaves crisped and floated down,
slithering in the soupy air. The ancient scents
of autumn bonfires came and went.
The Doctor frowned, more puzzled than alarmed,
and sent him to a specialist who found
no thrush had nested snug in his warm throat,
no feathered flutter, but the hard-clawed crab.
The plane for warm escape stayed on the ground.
* * * * *
The words were heard and understood:
no knife-blade shock. It seemed as if
some half-expected news had come at last.
And so the measured processes began
which brought him here, to winter and this bed,
where neutered and more neatly parcelled than
ever at home in longed-for, shared domain
of love and sleep, he looks around and sees
the so-far nameless others, like himself embossed
along the margins of the ward, each one a word,
synonymous, not quick or lumbering verb,
but each a hybrid vocable, half adjective, half noun,
a ‘patient’ - and, inertly patient, he
and everyone of them would have to be.
Choice, with their outdoor clothing, has been locked away.
He cannot move, except inside his head
where move he does, not far in time or space,
a few weeks only, travelling in reverse
to when he was escorted to the ‘Mould Room’ for
the fitting of his plastic ‘shell’, or 'mask'’.
Warm bandages were wound about his head and neck
until his face was covered save for holes
cut out for eyes and mouth. He thought
that he must be a sight to terrify
the young or, to the old, bring images
in black and white of H.G. Well’s Man
beneath whose bandages were nothingness and night.
The cast of head and neck set hard;
from this the mask or shell was shaped.
Next came the X-rays, then the ‘Simulation’
when radiotherapy’s procedures were rehearsed:
they stretched him out on what they called the ‘couch’
on which the glassy shell of plastic which contained
his captive head was firmly clamped,
immovable, beneath the engine’s steady hum:
all music killed, all singing dumb,
frivolities of far-off pleasures drilled
by that thin driving sound. The plastic shell
became a world of glass, his skull
its sole inhabitant, fixed firm and still
as specimen in laboratory or museum.
After this the real thing could begin.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The