This morning, out of the blue (or rather grey, since this particular August morning is cloud- lidded and spotted with heavy intermittent drops of rain,) the memory of a poem came to me. I didn’t remember it exactly, but remembered that it began with something like ‘And if..’ Above all I remembered the tenderness and intimacy of the poem, and also the seemingly effortless skill with which it unfolded; the concision, music and swift grace of its movement. I may have remembered the poem because I have been thinking again about ‘hospital’ or ‘medical poems’- poems that deal in some way with themes of illness from both patients and practitioners perspective. This poem is from neither of these perspectives, but is the vivid recollection of a child who, sent to call for a village Dr, is met at the door by the Dr’s wife . I leafed through several copies of ‘The Forward book of Poetry’, a volume I used to buy religiously, until I found the poem, ‘The Touch’ in the Highly Commended section of the 2011 copy. It is by the late Tom Duddy.
If a child fell from a tree, or raved
with fever, or a father came in hurt
from the fields, I was the one who raced
down the roads to the far side of the town,
to the house by the river, glad
of the chance to pass one more time
through the high clanking gates
into the avenue that would slow me
to a crunching walk under the dark,
cher-cherking, rook-swaying canopy.
It never took more than the one
rat-a-tat-tat to bring to the door
the doctor’s wife whose briskly gentle hands
once fixed my collar as I stood in the rain.
Isn’t that ‘rook-swaying canopy’ wonderful? I can’t add anything to Pippa Little’s assessment of the poem when she writes ‘.. its simple grace stayed with me. There was a mysteriousness and sweetness to it, a gut feeling that this was a real poem by a real poet’. I have a copy of Tom’s sold out pamphlet ‘The Small Hours’ which is full of such quiet, confident, deceptively simple work. You can read Pippa Little’s review of Tom’s full Happenstance collection ‘The Years’ here , and find out more about Tom on the website maintained by his family.