The following piece is from our August/September issue, which you can buy here.
How many times, dear arm,
have you put yourself in danger
for my sake? How many times
have you found your way home
through the dark, or saved me from falling?
I didn’t have to ask you twice.
Poor arm! I broke you once.
I burnt you once. More than once
I cursed your weakness
at arm-wrestling and swimming,
but I was proud of your tan
when I rolled up my sleeve at school.
You aren’t so handsome now,
but you soldier on, one of the faithful
in my band of volunteers,
my noble standard bearer
in the war within a war,
the daily clash of purposes.
Dear arm, hold still for me now,
while I make you suffer once more.
Be brave, while the surgeon
creates an ‘access fistula’
that will wash my blood for me.
It seems you must save my life as usual.
For the first time in my life
I have a regular job to go to.
Not a very good one perhaps,
but better than nothing
if you don’t mind doing nothing for a living.
Unpaid of course, but the social worker
says she can get me £50 a week
‘Attendance Allowance’ if I’m lucky.
‘They’ll turn us down the first time we apply,
but we’ll get it on appeal.’
She was right. All I have to do
is get myself to the workplace on time
and roll up a blood-stained sleeve.
I grab a sandwich at the Angel Pret,
then take the little 214 down Pentonville
to St Pancras Old Church Cemetery
with its workhouse out of Oliver Twist.
My job is holding out my hand
to a machine, palm up, like a beggar,
and doing my best not to move.
It’s a leisurely life to be sure,
going somewhere, waiting there for four hours,
then going home again with a headache.
You wonder whether it’s worth your while.
By half-time you’re praying
for the squeal of the tea-trolley
coming round with its bonus
of lemon-flavoured crushed ice.
Now all you have to do is ask Yvette
to open your biscuits for you.
The Last of the Mohicans
Popeye greets the assembled corpses
in the Mary Rankin Dialysis Wing
with his usual ‘Hi-de-hi, Campers.
The wanderer returns!
The Last of the Mohicans!’
I toss him his favourite ‘Nice to see you’
and he doesn’t let me down.
‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ he shudders.
‘A foggy day in London Town.’
He’s Scott of the Antarctic,
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,
Larry Grayson saying ‘Shut that door!’
Or else he’s mopping his brow
for ‘It ain’t half hot, Mum’, sweating it out
in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Polly puts the kettle on
and it’s tea and biscuits for Les Miserables.
‘Let them eat cake,’ says Popeye.
Polly is in the Khyber again,
but’s there’s no use crying over spilt milk.
‘Tea for two and you for me,’ sings Popeye.
‘Buy one and get one free, eh?’
‘The Battle of the Bulge?’ I say.
‘Great minds,’ he tells me, winking happily.
If all else fails
we might try you on
known in the trade
as Tyrannosaurus rex.
This predatory beast
undertakes a form
of ethnic cleansing
on your behalf,
anything that moves.
Don’t be alarmed.
According to its
on your brain function
hardly at all.
The Leaving Test
Medical student Ari-Non
wants to see me take a shower
to assess my hygiene skills
before he lets me go home.
His mouth turns down
when I express doubts about this,
but he says it doesn’t matter
so long as I pass the shopping test.
He takes me downstairs in a wheelchair
and gets me to buy a newspaper
in the hospital shop.
I hesitate too long
between The Mail and The Express,
settling finally for The Sun.
Ari-Non looks dubious about this,
but he lets me carry on.
He tells me to check my change,
but it slips through my fingers
and runs around the floor,
causing me to hallucinate briefly.
I make the mistake
of mentioning to Ari-Non.
His mouth turns down as
as he writes something in his book.
‘Oh yes, we thought he was a goner,’
the doctor tells his student nurse,
drawing aside a green curtain
to reveal his latest creation.
She looks at me admiringly,
imagining me dead. I take a little bow.
I always feel unwell when I hear talk
of my unscheduled return from the grave,
but I put on a brave face
and try to share their excitement
at having pulled off another
The doctor gets out his camera
and takes a picture of me alive.
His student poses smiling with the undead,
a willing witness to the miracle.
I put a friendly arm round her shoulders,
but spare her the vampire kiss.
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