As most people visiting here will probably know, I trained and worked as a nurse. In any job one adjusts to the daily (and nightly) working environment as time goes by. The bright-eyed student nurse, walking self-consciously onto a ward for the first time, knocking over a water jug, trying to push a wheelchair with the brakes still on, talking too much or not enough etc. will transform over time into someone who is in and of their element. The city hospital – a vast, drafty, under and over-heated mashup of old and new buildings connected by endless corridors and one or two still-working lifts- will become familiar. Its proportions will no longer be daunting and every event (no matter how extreme) within its walls (and car parks and entrances) will feel to the staff member like something that can be dealt with by the right people in a (hopefully) efficient and timely manner. That’s the idea, anyway.
The experience of hospital is very different for the patient or the visiting relative. Everything seems bright, oversized, loud. People seem to ignore you or are suddenly overly familiar and invading your intimate space, both mental and physical. Even entering a ward (assuming you have managed to find parking, figured out which building and floor you want and can gain entry by finding the right button to push and having your call answered) can be trepidation filled. Concern for loved ones results in heightened mental states.
The poem below is by Rennie Parker. I read it the day after I returned from a visit to a relative in hospital. Despite my previous experience in nursing, I still identified with the hyper-real surreal feel of Rennie’s poem. The manic collision of incidents and details that perfectly conjure up the disorientation and intensity of such an experience. I asked Rennie if I could share her poem. I’ve also posted one from her previous collection.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m pleased to present featured poet Rennie Parker.
Rennie Parker is a poet and reviewer, usually published by Shoestring Press. She lives in the East Midlands, performs at regional festivals, and often works for local authorities in arts and library services. Previously she enjoyed an academic career and obtained a PhD on early 20th century poetry & music (1997). She was born in Leeds, 1962; her hobbies include playing the ukulele and growing cactus plants. More online details can be found at her blog, Bookstop. Audio samples are available on Soundcloud. Her books are The Complete Electric Artisan (Shoestring Press, 2017) Candleshoe (Shoestring Press, 2014) Borderville (Shoestring Press, 2014) Newborough County (Shoestring Press, 2001) Secret Villages (Flambard Press, 2001) and The Georgian Poets (British Council/Northcote House, 1999). Her Ebooks on Kindle include the Vicarage trilogy: A Perfect Vicarage Affair, A Tiny Rural Parsonage, and A Small Corner of Paradise.
BURNING THE BONES AT FACTORY HOSPITAL
Not enough trolleymen today so it’s me
pushing Mum in her Stryker hydraulic wheeler-crate out
through the stroke-ward door down the supermarket aisle
of our echoing general infirmary. BANG as our appropriately-
named transport slams through the glass double doors
like it’s scoring the winning goal and on
past a tickertape blur of impacted roofs as the windows give out
onto slanted polychrome and brick from a soot-blackened century.
This thing is fast and I’m gathering speed now
as Mum flies away like a five-foot blue torpedo
and the gormenghast steam-driven hospital groans on
through the crowded millenium loaded with copper and tiles —
yes, we are going to ScanMan, BrainScanMan who lurks
in the basement complete with infernal engines. So
we veer on two wheels past overloaded nurses in their stretch
from one place to another and jam up smartly in-
side the too-narrow zinc-lined industrial catering lift
which is more like a lead-lined coffin of the old school and Mum
drops below us with a new grinning trolleyman riding her rail
reappears like the returned empty capsule on a ghost train
its scarred contents knocked horizontal —
at this point we’re aimed at the open front door
of the Brotherton Wing and its Manhattan scene of urgent
scissoring businessmen homing in towards the legal district
and our white Dover cliffs of the Leeds Civic Hall outside:
I’m sure her crate is heading straight for the zebra crossing
which rattles us traylike for the Wetherby bus but no
even Mum in her hyperreal state knows it’s time for her CAT scan
so the fenders bump round from one pink granite pillar
to the next like the wizard pinball itself and she clears
the vacant space in front of Sandwiches 2 Go
where secretaries drop their hummus-infested bread product
and over towards the half-hidden unlit corridor
which narrows and narrows and angles on down
under yellow-grey infills of rucked perspex roof
with truncheons of Yorkshire rain beating it into submission
and just as I catch hold of the outlying handle
which drags me halfway across the paper-afflicted waiting room
the wheeled crate stops one millimetre away
from a poster saying Have You Washed Your Hands.
So I sit on a tight plastic chair and I wait
thinking: Mum is in there and she’s covered with circular stickers
Mum has her head full of wires like an 84-year old Medusa
whose snakes want feeding: Mum is in there with that beardyfatguy
in a creased-up white shirt whose footwear squelches
like his socks are filled up with mud: yes, Mum is in there
and we don’t know what’s wrong.
From The Complete Electric Artisan, (Shoestring, 2017)
THE DOUBLE MEANING OF AERIALS
The aerials are perched like flightless birds
They open their skeletons to the sky
Their displayed angles are tang and attitude.
Of all pernickety tangles in life’s blue
You are the most linear
Which I like utterly,
Broadcasting your ballet on the rooftops
In your language from Neptune.
And that one there has the aspect of a short farmer
Carrying a rake –
And this one lances towards the West
In a thicket of nails.
You could hang your washing on their dread scopes
Count the raised fishbones and
The plated-on satellites of chance
Cluttering in the same way
Like a jungle of coathangers
In the universe cupboard.
They are the avid fascinators
On our patient houses,
They are the caricatures –
I am going to climb up there and do strange music
Rattle a stick across their railings
Play scarecrow sounds on their nerves.
From Candleshoe (Shoestring Press, 2014)