The Writers’ Cafe Magazine – ISSUE 9 “Our National Health”

Hospital-Ward

Perhaps an Angel
by Susan Castillo

Past midnight, A&E. Nurses check charts,
murmur about boyfriends, coffee,
changing shifts. In a cubicle,
a doctor stitches up a scalp
as though he’s making lace.
Deft hands, cappuccino skin, eyes bruised almonds.
I know I’ve seen him somewhere.

I flash back to Manhattan. In a museum
called the Cloisters, medieval faces look down
from stone walls. Enigmatic virgins,
tortured Christs. In a corner on a plinth
there’s a head of soft brown stone.
The face smiles gently down
At hordes of children. I read the label:

…………………………..Perhaps an Angel

First published in The Stare’s Nest in 2014.

……………………………………………………………………….*****

My Young Aunt Shrinks to the Size of a Tumour
by Michelle Diaz

Aunty Mel’s fainting fits were family anecdote
until carpets became seas and the headaches increased.

I peeped into her hospital room –
no roar of laughter, no hip-sway dancing.
A striking absence of hair and make-up.

The priest came,
gave her a miraculous medal.
She placed it in her mouth
like a child on Communion day –
wouldn’t spit it out.

The nurse with a practiced expression
offered drinks. Mel slurred –
Gin and tonic please.

No, sweetheart,
don’t eat the chrysanthemums,
don’t kiss the doctor,
don’t forget the name of your four year old daughter.

………………………………………………………………………..*****

Afflicted
by Michelle Diaz

This is not head lice or chicken pox,
not – it will clear up in a week, keep taking the medicine.
This is now, today, tomorrow,
forever, maybe.

This is a job for Superman!
I am not Superman.
I am his mother.

6am. The sun. A long out breath.
In the other room the wild show has begun.

Body-body-body….
Puppet-boy, loon limbed,
touched by the curse of electrification.
There is no grace in this involuntary dance.

Tired.
I cannot walk around with your tear-filled eyes in my heart anymore.

Bastard. Shit. Fuck off!
These are not my words.
They are not really yours.
They have a strange intelligence that tells it as it is.

Another large bowl of tinnitus for breakfast.
Another auditory barrage of vocal skew.
I kiss the grimaces, avoid a flying elbow in the face.

Gross movie, garbled script,
coarse commentary.
Every day a new unwanted movement.

Under his breath, he does not say the words –
‘Lord take this cup from me’.

His screams are canny –
know how to speak the truth.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

Praying for Peace in the Doctor’s Surgery
by Michelle Diaz

Two women in happy masks put their lapping tongues inside
my book, keep turning the volume up, so I can no longer think
and anger bakes a pie in my stomach.

There is an ache of blank talk frisbee-tossed between them,
no pause allowed for fear of quiet death, the gulf of silence.
The tones vary: bird to snorty elephant, laugh alarm to demented.

There must be words, there must be sound daubed on silence,
nothing must interrupt staccato chatter.

What chance of world peace when few are able
to stop their mouths for longer than a minute?
When voices rise up, yet hearts remain sheathed, unmoved.

………………………………………………………………………..*****

The Things You Can See When You Fall Down
by Michelle Diaz

Days without mornings

half-light spreads claws over furniture
the bed has teeth

Buttocks grow roots
that hook you to the sofa

There is no need to ever rise again
the life you never dreamed of has you

Something that almost feels like you
stares out into a window of neighbours

They appear to know how to live –
have a dining table, curtains,

houseplants that grow upwards.

………………………………………………………………*****

The Radiation of Trauma
by Michelle Diaz

When a grim sun echoes against bone, tongues flicker at the centre,
body ricochets against the shock of being filled,
the precise moment of choice to flee or embody
a thrill of hardened blood, coursing like a threat,
in heat, surrender’s face is born.
Body-cauldron, alchemic remedy of reduction,
nothing changes without fire-lap,
without internal thunderclap.
Allow your feet to burn.

……………………………………………………………******

Nurse’s Song
by Adam Steiner

All brea……k
lines
……………severed.
Hearts cry
unplugged,
but tethered still.
And down the hall, in a rush and a push, greens and blues go
blur into one with the wild purple flush. At the other end,
someone’s crying-out “horse, horse!”. Whistle-by buzzers
beep a drowning orchestra, now digitised cries are swansong
to absent ears.

……………Night’s
…….stret- ………ched
…….limbs …………..peel
…..off………………. into
……slow………….. death,
……..as …………….tree
…………..branches
…………..separate
………………the
………………..rest
…………………just
…………….go on
…………………living.
Old-fAshionEd in oUr flesh
lives lived tOo far in AnAl0gue
…………..We hear 0nly rEal vowel sOunds
N0t spEech in e1ectrIc spArks
……………………….This digita1’s ‘just a phase’
(it wi11 be over – when?)

Musing in secret
another acceptable scandal.
Three nurses meet
stealing time apart
– in quickening gaps –
burning-up precious seconds
every cigarette, a moment –
tastes like freedom – ‘better than breathing’ they said,
between the retch and vent.
Being money well-spent,
That I work to earn,
…………..to keep
……………………….to spend,
……………………….I rise with prices.
……………………….Tell yourself: ‘it’s a long-term investment’,
……………………….slowly gaining interest in our deaths.

Run wit-wild in blurred exhaustion.
For this,
for that,
for what?
To scratch English existence
on tea and two slice,
remembering Ps and Qs
as they hand you sharp end of the knife.

Time’s stuck unwound,
it loses 12 years-per-hour.
“Manning” the gears of this graveyard shift
we revolt for tomorrow, then again, ad infinitum.
On your marks, full motion set, now pace is the trick with
ankles biting to spring but we can’t get free till the clock’s
struck GO!

Shedding uniform as years,
each grows new skin;
to forget the day and let the night without pain begin.
That heady blanket trails across the sky, but this darkness is
just another excuse.

Ready for the craic into cackles, there’s loose wine and
looser talk all around the straight-edged suburban deck.
The dead carpenter’s made his mark, albeit too late.
Steeped in gin, she’s happy enough at forty-one, land-
locked, quietly greying and very much in love with the
neighbour’s wife. But it’s impolite to say something, let
alone anything. So have another drink and learn to forget.
No moon left to pick-out the creases from cool-blue of
landing lights, charged by memory of the sun, they bloom
ready to greet the stars.
‘Pound-a-go,’
She nods,
‘you can’t beat that.’
…until the light runs away with itself.

Gathered circuits fizzle and flicker
into half-eaten candles
licked clean by whispering wings.
Drink more to push back the dawn
that keeps on coming, higher and higher.
Only water to stay dead-thin,
cold shoulder sharpens the sleekit rays
(trying to ignore the next twenty-four stretch)
We must take our human allowance
in evenings and weekends, to please.
Knowing there’s only rest for the dead.
For those still living,
tonight is everything.

Next day (just like the last)
Wheeze/hack/choking,
one patient to the next,
shot-germs spread with casual care.
Wrapping bandage too far,
over, down and out from under,
subtle white bind cocoons us all,
creeping about as uniforms.

Bondage, only implied at first,
slides thicker, stronger, longer;
the more it importunes with drag of the weave, twinning
single arm-hairs.
At stump’s end, every loose thread has played-out its length
beyond terminal reach.

By blood tithe bound,
swear the naked hypocrisy
of every hipporific oaf.
Turning tricks for hollow promise,
these Treacle Towns stick-slowly, un-loathing makes fools for
us all.
Our fund of trust,
descends further,
a bankrupt sump
of honeyed slivers.
(Read the fine lines before you sign)
Safely nested, steadily aping concrete
the static dream. Surplus care and overspend,
in silent rapture they lie joined,
Patient/Healer, intertwined.

‘I’ is just another
other object
as Siamese twin
seeing same doubles
through shared eyes.

………….Hand
………….over
………..under-
………….hand
one washes the other.
Infection and Procedure: inherited diseases.
ignorance IN – is listening OUT.
Deep breaths.
Please wait until I leave the room before exhaling.
Bacteria scrub: Massage the medium,
through thick end of the swimming lens,
check the charts.
No change,
…………..nothing ever changes,
blankness of a stare,
where less becomes more,
distortion overtakes the norm.

Redundancy
and other ugly words:
‘closedown’
‘steering groups’
‘cut-back’
‘streamlining’
– rumours slither
Towards time-duty, now deluxe commodities,
ill-afforded, even by the endless hours, laisse faire,
splintered into days.

(Extinct) Meagre Allowance to lose your own way.
Underpaid, undersexed and unheard;
we’re permanently misunderstood,
all these near misses make pariahs of us,
scapegoated by the dead (who cannot speak but bare
names)
cornered by neat garrotte of circumstance
and excavated testimony
to bring down those higher powers
(who don’t speak for us).
Attacked and harassed,
we who hold the line
are steadily nudged over it,
only to be shot from all sides.

Desperate to get out from hand,
its tightening glove
that lathers praise, gladly,
as it shakes itself free.
Sold out, so we all go, one from under the other,
disappeared (ghosts on paper)
another number, a mass-collated sum.

We bump-up the figures, when winds blow sane.
But as crows cock North by North-West,
It’s time to re-distribute the rates,
ever-obedient, we mark ourselves: ‘perfectly inept.’
Evaluation to-order’s a dirty mirror,
few can stand close lest its reflection rubs off.

Rollback the mothballed wards,
preserved in a permanent haze
As far from life as death.
Wily all around us, shaking laughter
reveals no secret
and announces no fear
bitter tears from stripped gallows,
of Juniper and Chestnut tree.

………………………………………………………………………….******

The Anatomical Man
by Gareth Writer-Davies

tied and bound
a knife has split me, from sternum to pubic bone

the skin pulled back
to reveal, all of my workings

is there something within my liver?
or hiding, behind my bowel?

upon the sloppy viscera
I look down

fascinated
as to what is to come.

………………………………………………………………………….******

Good Nurses
by Miki Byrne

Soft shoes. Gentle voices.
Bright and compassionate.
They glide like angel fish
through corridors and wards.
Nighttimes’ saviours,
there when all is dark
and a cool hand can calm
a fluttering heart,
still a fevered dream.
They are competent, efficient.
Pearls beyond price.

………………………………………………………………………*****

Lumps and Bumps
by Miki Byrne

In nighties and knickers,
middle aged women
vainly preserve their modesty.
Keep a fabric barrier
against their skin.
As if this flimsy barricade
could defend
against harried Doctors,
who will flip a nightdress up
in cold detachment.
see only flesh.
Subjectively assess
the body before them.
ladies lie back.
Eyes closed, enduring.
Aware of their lumps and bumps,
aging skin
the indifference with which
their bodies are viewed.

…………………………………………………………………..*****

Small Talk
by Miki Byrne

Strangers in nightclothes,
caught in forced proximity,
tight in the binding of ill-health.
Each in our curtained bed space
where boundaries crumble.
Unwanted intimacy assaults us.
An invasion of syringes,
cannula’s, palpations, tests.
Emotions are fragile.
Swim near the surface
to breach now and then
like lachrymose dolphins.
We disclose details to each other
that never would be
appropriate outside.
Cling to each other
like prisoners of war.
Make friendships that are taut
and temporary.
Discuss which staff are pleasant,
who we like, trust.
Mark out power freaks,
those who can’t be bothered.
We form alliances.
Watch each other’s backs
in the face of a crumbling system
that does not like us,
though we are its life-blood.
We are isolated yet together.
Make small talk to pass the time.

…………………………………………………………………………….*****

White Line
by Miki Byrne 

Horizontal, disoriented,
the map unfurled stickily
in my head.
Fragmented memories
rocked in a small cradle
of consciousness,
as I navigated by sound:
Engine mutter and oxygen hiss
rumbled me past landmarks.
The sharp left turn at Coombe Hill
lolled my head like a doll’s,
had me pulled tight
against blanket and strap.
Conversation morphed
into a reassuring joke above me,
slotted round a rapid time-check
a sharp-eyed glance
thrown from one face to another.
Further from home, fear expanded.
Voiceless, I gripped a cold rail.
Thought of you behind,
treadling brake and clutch,
knuckles white
as you tried to keep up.
Time oozed
as fingers found my pulse.
Blue lights flickered
through spiralling wails,
axe-chopped to silence,
when movement suddenly ceased.
I lifted, slid, rolled into bright light.
Thought of the white line
pulling you to me.
Like a hooked fish, mouth slack
with shock and worry.

………………………………………………………………………..*****

Conversation with the Doctor
by Sophie Fenella

What’s the weather like outside?
You asked me that the last time
you held my last breath before me,
watched as I questioned the longevity
of breathing and then brought me back,
back in the room, back to tweezers,
and pills, and diagrams and radioactive.
I am sure there is something wrong,
I say and you smile in the way you
are supposed to when someone
you don’t know needs comforting. You
don’t know me and yet you have taken
my blood felt my pulse and seen
my tongue first thing in the morning.
There is not much we can do.
I am running laps behind my eyes,
relaying between cancer or baby,
cancer or baby, cancer or baby.
I know baby or cancer,
is the reason you have so many tweezers,
I know I am either multiplying or exploding,
running or falling, running or falling, running.
I am not a doctor.
In six weeks’ time you will get your results.
Is there a number I can call?
There is a waiting list.
Your white gloves are supposed to be reassuring
but my knees curve and scream wolf cries,
legs braced, not ready.
I am cotton bud clean,
I am ready to palpate this broken oven
that is a compost pit stirring life into nothing,
that is a tiny hand clutching my thumb,
that is all I want and all I am scared of,
that is the emergency exit and a well-made bed.
I am over dying, I want to make life.
Our nurses have washed
souls out of sheets,
yours is still glowing,
now breathe.

……………………………………………………………………………….*****

Examination
by Sophie Fenella 

The waiting room floor
sticks like cling film.
My appointment is
an alarm ringing and
at ten in the morning
as nightmares of
cancerous skin fade
the ache in my gut
won’t quit.

There is a man sat next to me
with a razor blade in his hand.
His knees shake for medicine,
as his eyes tell me he slept
with his hand dialing the number
for heaven. He wants to get there
fast but no one picked up, and now
his forgotten prescription
is a death wish.

I told the doctor I can’t go
to work because the day
is a storm cloud.
They put me on a waiting list.
Every day I wake up in pain.
No X-Ray will find the cause,
I thought freedom from pain
was a human right.

Above the reception desk
is a television. Headlines
scrawl across the screen:

The government pledge
to protect the NHS
in real terms.

I don’t know if the politician
speaking has ever waited.
I mean really waited,
waited until he can’t
tell the difference between
sleeping and waking.
Because he probably goes
to a waiting room
in a different part of town
with cream carpets, and
white lilies in a crystal vase.

Increase by two million per year,
cut back to rebuild, cut to build,
cut to improve, cut to live, cut,
don’t forget the deficit, keep
cutting, then pay pack, pay back
two hundred and twelve billion,
thirty seven million, six hundred
and ninety billion, billion,
billion, cut, cut, cut.

The man turns to me and asks,

If my body is for profit
how much do they want
for my scars?

I look at my own body, clinical
clean and unfed. There are
pennies on my skin.
I guess we have our price.

The doctor turns up
on his knees
as a young bride smiles
at the camera
on the second hand screen.

………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Congenital Spherocytosis
by Linda Menzies

Myths tumble from family cupboards
Of Fifties children bandaged from armpit to groin,
Passing fearful weeks in iron-railed beds,
Victims of hereditary.

A new mother, afraid for my baby,
I hear of the soldier’s splenectomy in the trenches,
A Swiss doctor cutting, mustard gas in the foetid air.

Doctor dictates no infection for the first year, so
I whisk my son clear of coughing in queues,
away from the snotty child or a perilous rash.
I test pinkness of his feet each day,
Search his face, checking for jaundice.

Spherocytosis blanched his face and tired him.
His spleen overworked, a factory on overtime,
Spherical red corpuscles crumbled easily.

From the uneasy chair I watched
the drip-through of red cells.
In the brittle blackness of a hospital night,
in that place amid sleeping and waking
he breathes out sickly sweet anesthetic.

His cheeks pink up.

A year later, he flies home from school
Trousers torn, hefting a victorious ball.
The smile splitting his cheeks moves high
into his clear, bright eyes. Healed.

………………………………………………………………………………………*****

Counting the Cost
by Linda Menzies

January 1948
Steam vapour, extra blankets and damp flannels all fail.
Anxiety grips her guts, she hears the rasping cough.
High in her tenement, she ekes worn pennies from the cocoa tin
and sends the eldest to fetch the doctor.
She counts money into the doctor’s hand – from the Christmas fund,
for the shoes not soled, or extra sausages.
The doctor writes a label for the brown bottle.

July 1948
She wisps back damp hair, hears her child strain to breathe.
Another girl whimpers in a fevered dream.
The coffers are low: it’s the rent money this time.

The doctor’s brisk ring heralds in a firm tread,
His tobacco-scented tweed fills the dark hall.
Upstairs, he listens, soothes, pats tiny damp brows.
She proffers coins, hesitant. He laughs, dons his hat.
“No need, my dear, it’s all free now.”

……………………………………………………………………..*****

Ward Observations
by Nina Simon

Late summer and the ward is hot,
too hot for the motley crew
lying on beds or sitting in
faux leather high-backed chairs.

The woman in bed one
keeps pulling at her leg bandage
till it bags around her ankles
as she races up the ward
on her Zimmer frame.

In bed two,
Sharon works on a jigsaw puzzle,
bottle of non-alcoholic wine at her side.
It isn’t what she craves
but the nurses are watching
and she knows they will escort her
when she goes outside for a cigarette.
How she longs to shake off those invisible chains.

In the third bed,
the lady with the close-cropped white hair
sits eating spicy lentil soup hot from the M & S café.
She’s dressed,
ready to go home but has been waiting since morning
for the doctors to discharge her.
Bored, she tells anyone who will listen
that her 90-year-old mother in New York still uses the subway,
describes her four-bedroom house in Buckingham,
the daughter she never sees and how proud she is
of the son who visits every day.
Tears cloud her eyes when she talks about the foster son,
killed in a car crash,
suicide she feels.

At bed four, the Baptist minister,
in a pine-striped suit, hat still on his head,
brings his wife soup and cake.
He massages her tummy with circular movements,
therapy that’s better than the pills
nurses bring each morning.

Outside the female bay,
a man, with hospital gown flapping,
walks up and down the corridor,
spouting words that make no sense,
while the male nurse
chases after him, trying to persuade him back to bed.

This is the liver ward where wine bottles clink
and beer has fermented to poison.

……………………………………………………………………………….*****

Mrs McVey, Still Going Strong
by Alexander Hamilton

Mrs McVey may not be her name,
but it suits, as many another might.
Mrs McVey has come a long way
from baby to this.
Every mile is etched into her face.
She lies as though thrown down.
Emaciated arms and legs at odd angles,
spillikins in a game never to be won.
Her wasted body clad in a hospital gown,
offering little comfort or modesty.
Mrs McVey is wired and tubed, a prototype Automata.
She is in a side ward, its curtain drawn back, a proscenium.
‘Come and see the little old lady suffering.’ A Raree-show.
She is probably past caring now.
She is attended by daughters and sons.
The daughters full of news, spilled out at volume,
the sons, uncomfortable and staying back from the bed.
Keeping a private death watch.
I see all this as I pass, walking the ward.
I do this a lot, being unable to lie in the bleak unfriendly space
I have been parked in.
When there is a bed I am to be relocated out of the HDU
And so it happens, I have a last walk.
Mrs McVey, dark hole of toothless mouth agape, is still with us.
Well done Mrs McVey!

…………………………………………………………………………………*****

Going for a scan. Oban.
by Alexander Hamilton

The cool grey corridor
stretches past discrete doors.
I am pulled backwards,
wheelchairs work best backwards
who knows why?
The walls have posters,
not cheery fairs and fetes
this one is the large bowel,
that one the brain.
So that’s what’s in a lung,
they’ll soon find out.
I am up for a scan
the machine winds up,
the roar whirls around me
I am fed in and out
that’s me done.
A Pulmonary Embolus
no one is surprised.
I am set to wait,
I sit in my wee room
the door is open
like a weather house,
I will not be popping out though.
In my blue towelling dressing gown
abandoned just by the X Ray room,
I have become an NHS cliché.
The elderly man dozing alone
in a wheelchair,
his possessions on his lap.
How long before I drool?
will the ambulance come first?
It’s a lonely wait and long.

………………………………………………………………………*****

Irony Never Dies
by John Scottie Collins

Her breathing was laboured as she lay on the hospital bed. The consultant looked grave, shook his head, ‘it’s time to send for the chaplain.’

She slept fitfully, through the long hot afternoon, and called out, occasionally, to her dead mother and father. He arrived at seven. She was weak. I touched her arm, ‘Mum, he’s here.’

She opened her jaundiced eyes and took a moment to focus them on the young cleric. ‘You took your time, Father.’

I’m sorry. It’s been a busy day.’

‘The news is good.’

The priest looked puzzled. ‘What is it?’

Ah’m no deid yet.

……………………………………………………………………………………*****

The Pebble Necklace
by Maggie Mackay

They weigh me down, these stones.
No one else can see them, their mass
and the clasp jams with my memories.
Some are childhood burdens, yellow, brown,
green, polished smooth by the Norwegian Sea,
veined with names like eejit, slowcoach, bawheid.
Some are teenage insults, plain, swot, ginger –
streaked black, grey, white in Scottish rivers,
tucked to each other’s curves in an arc of woe.
At night they rub my skin like pumice,
I am the fixed landscape of doubt.

 

………………………………………………………………………………….*****

Coming Round
by Rebecca Gethin

I was breaching frost-cold water
but which was me and which was water
I couldn’t tell, the current drawing
what seemed to be my mind
further down to open sea
where taste was brackish,
vision salt and smarting

and my limbs moved
in the falling feeling
lived in its breathlessness,
but I breathed through its pounding
as though breasting
its tugging and pulling
by lying within it,
resting on its will.

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

Waiting Outside the Gynae Ward During the Olympics
by Rebecca Gethin

In Rio, it’s women’s beach volleyball. Beside me,
a woman is wearing a gown and white compression socks
and waits for lasers to cut out her disease.

In Rio, the women have tiny shorts and bikini tops
and dive around with shrieks and grunts in the stadium.
We remain silent. A man is glued to the match

in Rio as if interested in who wins and loses.
The woman beside him mutters to me he’s only here
because she’s scared. We flick through our mobiles.

In Rio, their bodies are lithe, their feet bare on the sand.
Upstairs they are in scrubs and someone is under
anaesthetic. We wait and watch the match

in Rio, without any understanding of the rules.

………………………………………………………………………………*****

Modesties
by Rebecca Gethin

i

The three armed hospital gown
wraps you like swaddling,
leaves no gap at the back
so your behind isn’t revealed.
You are inside a fabric syringe
and being pushed towards the sharp end
Encased like a tube of flesh and bone
in a straitjacket.
No going back.

ii

A sheet of tissue paper
across my nakedness
so that it’s just me who can’t see it.

My flag of surrender. In a minute
when I’ve slithered down
the lens magnifies everything inside.

Diagnosis and prescription are being written
on a sheet of paper
and afterwards, while dressing,

I screw it up and shove it in the bin,
Back in the consulting room
find out that I’m in no position.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

No Going Back
by Rebecca Gethin

On our last walk
we found ruins
of circular stone houses
dotted around
among the bracken.

Millennia of weathers
have put out fires
in the hearths,
tallow candles,
brought down roofs

that hold walls together.
It’s like seeing him
walk up the garden,
trudging slow and stooped –
my companion of mountains,

the ups and downs
of coast paths.
Weathering
chemotherapy
is to lose your roof.

……………………………………………………………………………….*****

MRI
by Rebecca Gethin

Corridors are like tunnels –
turns to left, right, right, left –

the blue line I’m following
is one among several
and other people flow along different ones,
their footsteps tapping –

a white corridor with an electricbuzz
lies before me. It tips me downhill
past a chapel with a cross on the door,
Oncology at the bottom

and still further on towards
Nuclear Medicine.
More edges and corners
to a cul de sac –

the waiting room. Windowless.
Were it not for all the people waiting
the room would be empty.

We slump on the cushions
of our shadows. Our names
draw each of us through the door

……………………………………………………………………………*****

The Legacy of Care
by Trish Bennett

There’s the swish,
an echo of days when nightingales
in bulbous victorian dresses
rounded sharp corners in haste.
Long dead.

These days, people with anxious faces
rush in, to sit in queues of torment
on hard plastic chairs,
and glare at a strapped up TV
dripping daytime into night.

The smell of clean masks
an infinity of killing things.
One man stifles a cough for fear
of air-conditioned accusation while his wife
thumbs a magazine of MRSA.

The vending machine rattles, a snack,
in the florescent drone. A child cries
and all heads turn to stare
as she clutches her ted and hides
in her Mother’s chest.

There’s the swish. The curtain opens
we all look up in hope
to a burnt-out nurse
who looks at her chart and sighs
as she calls my name.

Previously published in ‘A New Ulster: The Hidden and Divine, Female Voices in Ireland’ October 2017

……………………………………………………………………………….******

Frank
by Trish Bennett

So, you’ve just the one’ you say.’ I don’t flinch now
like I used to when your words would slice
and I would make an excuse to get away
to hate you — with your easy three.

A spark lit up my womb once, for enough time
to set us alight over names, what he’d look like
would he have his Father’s curls or my sides teeth?
when there’d have to be a lock pulled.

When the spark died, I became so filled with loss
that my ovary (the one that swung to the left)
tried to fill the void by rearing a Frankenstein cyst on itself
the size of an orange with teeth and hair’ the surgeon said
after he’d cut Frank and the rebel leftie — out.

‘So, you’ve just the one’ you say. I don’t flinch now
like I used to when your words would slice
and I would make an excuse to get away.
I just say ‘yes’ — like I had a choice.

 Previously published in ‘The Bangor Literary Journal’, Issue 2 April 2018.

 ………………………………………………………………………………..*****

National Health – Gym Out
by Mbeke Waseme

I stood at the counter, having handed the three-day free pass printout to the male attendant. I had seen last week and although he thought that he recognised me, he said nothing. He had this semi anxious look on his face that I had noted when I first met him. He didn’t respond but Instead handed the form to the older lady next to him. She looked at me too… for a little too long I thought.

‘Have you been here before?’, she asked

‘I haven’t’, I lied.

She looked at me again and called someone, somewhere. I could hear her spelling my name out. The yoga teacher walked by and smiled at the attendant and at me. I tried not to make it look as if we had already met. I had enjoyed her aerial yoga class so much that I thought, if I could get another three days free, I would sign up for the package next week when I got paid. After all, that eight day pass that Rajita had given me at work, that shouldn’t count as this was my first online application for a free pass. And, I had not been able to attend all eight days due to work commitments so technically, I was owed the three days that I had lost.

I looked at the clock. It was 10.35 and if I could move quickly, I could change and be in the room for the 10.45 start. I really should have worn my yoga pants under my dress to save time.

‘Would you like to see a manager? ’the attendant asked

‘Of course’ I responded with much enthusiasm, “I would love to see the manager as I plan to join the gym but I really wanted to try out this aerial yoga class so could I see the manager after the class?”

‘OK! You’d like to do the aerial yoga class and see the manager afterward?’ I so hated the way people in this region repeated whole sentences back to me. I remained calm and responded

‘Yes. Yes’. It was now 10.39.

‘OK!’, she responded and began to get my towels and locker key. I turned to check the messages on my phone when I heard

‘Hi there, how were the classes last week?’, I looked up to see one of the over helpful managers who I had met after the Saturday advanced yoga class. He looked at my free pass in the attendant’s hand and looked at me. The attendant had a funny and confused look on her face. She had aged by 5 or so years.

‘You can’t have another free pass, madam. This is for first time users only!’ the overly helpful attendant stated.

I wanted to tell him how much I felt like a first time user. How the introductory classes to aerial yoga had been so fabulous that I wanted some more of that adrenaline rush and needed it to help me get through the day. To let him know that I was a creative, currently working on projects and very much needing to be in the space with that awesome teacher who gave me real feedback. A teacher who was so unlike the terrible Sargent major of a yoga teacher who worked in my condo and who ignored me throughout the class, making a point of only touching the Chinese and white students.

She touched and praised no brown students, no matter how good we were. In the last class of hers that I had attended, as I stood there in standing extended leg stretch, begging her to ‘look at me, miss. Look at me’. I realised how I had craved her validation and how much she was unable to give it to me. One Chinese woman with whom I had connected in that class, had clocked the scenario and had mouthed ‘it’s really good’ to the wounded mini me standing there. I had left vowing not to return for I was worthy of more and knew that as great as my practise was, she should not be the person I should look to for that confirmation.

I had attended other classes since living in Malaysia, with teachers who sat fixing their lipstick and hair in the mirrors after they had given instructions for the asanas. I had attended classes where teachers chatted to their friends whilst we died a little more trying our best to whole the poses, and sometimes had to simply collapse as the teacher’s attention had long left the students who came to the class. No, this teacher was different and my brown skin was not a deterrent to her. She had walked over to me and had adjusted me with love and care. She wanted me to be the best I could be. After one class, she had asked ‘Have you done aerial yoga before?’ and I was super proud to say ‘no, this is my second class’ and to hear her respond with ‘you’re really good’.

If you are interested in joining, we can sit over there and I can go through the options with you. We moved to the seated area and the attendants watched as I was led away. I looked up at the clock. It was 10.46 and I knew that she would have started. She would be giving clear instructions about each pose. The manager went on about the 4 months and the 12-month packages which were available. I could only join using a credit card and not my debit card. He wondered how flexible my job was as he had seen me there at 10.30amlast week. I explained that it made more sense to do an early class. To not have a lunch break. To avoid the mad evening traffic. To utilise the Uber and Grab special offers which always began at 10.00am and were finished by 5pm. He looked puzzled. I  wondered why I was still there.

……………At 11.00am I left.

………………………………………………………………………………*****

There Will Be Blood
by Peter J. King

They came for me at dawn in gowns and grins;
they took me down, the cheery banter tinged
on my part with a certain nervousness.
Professional and friendly they explained
what would be done, what might go wrong, and then,
their preparations made, they wheeled me in.
………………………………The needle
………………………grated slightly
……………..on my spine;
……the chatter turned
…………to babble
……and they laid
………………………….me on the table
……………………………………..absent-minded.
………………If the knives brought pain
…………I had forgotten
…..by the time I woke –
hand cathetered,
……..mouth dry –
no trace of all the blood they must have spilt.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

The Haunted Hospital 
by Peter J. King

Submissions for The Writers Cafe - Haunted Hospital

…………………………………………………………………………..*****

Post-Op
by Peter J. King

Across the ward,
beside the door,
a young man is embedded
in a star-ship bridge of flashing lights
and tubes.

……….<ping>

For when the pain
becomes too great
he has a little button, calling morphine
like a magic carpet
……….<ping>
………………………………wafting him away
from care.

Like all machines
upon the ward
……….<ping>
the morphine pump announces every
button press with beeping for us all
to hear.

He shows no sign
……….<ping>
of what he feels,
there’s only the increasing rate of shrill
and penetrating beeps
……….<ping>
…………………………………..to indicate
his pain.
We try to sleep,
……….<ping>
but always there’s
……….<ping>
accelerating evidence
……….<ping>
……………………………………of agony that pierces
……….<ping>
through our dreams,
……….<ping>
………………………………….that wakes us
……….<ping>
…………………………………………………………to his
………..<ping>
silence.
………..<ping>
Unbearable.

………………………………………………………………………..*****

Who Knows Me?
Rona Fitzgerald

I
I brought John Clare to the waiting room
company, consolation

………………………………………….a word.

He knew dark, how fear enfolds
noise intrudes. How small things
………………………………………………destabilise.

He also knew joy
……………………..how to allow small things
to bring ease.

I’m trying not to remember
my previous visit
…………………………a beached whale
immobile………………………………….fearful.

II
Eleven days earlier, swathed in plaster
swaddled in gauzy bandage thigh to foot
they took me in, tended my fears
……………………………………..made me feel at home.

They were busy, pressed
under pressure pre Christmas fractures
celebrations, early cold.

Did I fall on Glasgow’s icy streets?
No, I said, Alicante’s gritty hills
……………………………………..sunshine and sea.

From trauma nurse who
held my cold hand
……………………to ambulance crew

who chair lifted me up
forty one steps, support
………………….sympathy, advice.

And banter!
You maybe, aye, should have
stayed in the pub!

III
Today, I’m greeted by smiles
take a seat, do you need assistance?
There is a short delay.

I let the poems take me walking
at dusk, rejoicing in the skylark
soft breezes, subdued light.

My name is called
……………………I can barely hear
ping of phones, anxious air.

Today………………….. my hand
knee………………. gash
are me.

I know our NHS will heal me
……………………..get me mobile
no matter
…………………………………………..who I am.

………………………………………………………………………*****

The Black Arts
for Dr M 

by Gordon Meade

“Good Morning, Doctor, there are a couple of things
that I would like to ask you about; my lymphedema being one
of them, and the possible onset of depression, the other.”

“Well, stockings are a bit of a black art. Put the wrong one on
and you can actually do more damage than good.”

This coming from a doctor whom I had already told,
during a previous appointment, that my latest oncologist
thought that I may well have been wearing the wrong sort
of stocking and, in the wrong place, for over two years.

“Thanks, Doc. Now, moving on,
what about my possible depression?”

“Well, there are a number of medications I could give you,
but it is not an exact science. I can recommend a website that
you could have a look at. I think you should really consider that.
Taking medications is a big commitment. You really have to be up
for it. Some of them can have dramatic results but others can make you
feel even worse. In the end, I guess it is all a matter of trial and error.”

“Well, thank you for your time, Doctor,
but I am afraid you had already lost me after
your – stockings are a bit of a black art.”

………………………………………………………………………..*****

Cancer Ward: 2016
by Gordon Meade

So, this time, it isn’t all about me.
Therefore, I can be a little less subjective.
My sister is in one of the beds in this ward,
trying to come to terms with her cancer
and two other infections, the sources

of which the hospital, at present,
remains unsure. From time to time,
a nurse comes over to change my sister’s
intravenous drip. In and out of another
bed in the same ward is a young

alcoholic woman whose only motivation
in life, for the time being, seems to be to try
and escape. There is a nurse assigned to her
bed 24/7. Three nurses in total; each one on
an 8 hour shift. None of the other patients

in the ward are able to get anything like
a good night’s sleep. Everybody knows that
this is probably down to a lack of funding. Not
enough psychiatric wards, not enough nurses,
not enough of anything. But why is it, when

there is a lack of space, that everybody
manages to get dumped in a hospital’s cancer
ward? Haven’t the patients there already got
enough to deal with, without also ending up
as victims of our government’s lack of care?

………………………………………………………………………….*****

My Mindful Big Toe
by Gordon Meade

Sometimes I wonder just how much time
and energy I should be trying to expend on
examining the big toe on my left foot or,

for that matter, the instep on my other foot,
my shin, my upper thigh, my left or right hand,
my forehead, or my scalp. Far too much I am

afraid. I would rather gaze through our living
room window. I would rather lose myself in the view.
I would rather listen to the sound of the sea than

my own deep breathing. I would rather plunge
my toes into a waiting rock pool than spend half an hour
or so, with my eyes closed, just to feel nothing at all.

…………………………………………………………………………..*****

The Cancer Helpline
by Gordon Meade

Mid-afternoon, and with nothing
better to do, I find myself picking up
the telephone and calling one
of the many cancer helplines.

“I wonder if you could help me?
I am calling not so much about cancer
itself, but about some of the side effects
that can be caused by the treatments
I have been given for it. This afternoon’s
topic is gynecomastia. I haven’t actually
been diagnosed with it, but I can see
and feel that my breasts are growing.”

“Err, well, that can happen”, confirms
the male nurse on the other end of the line.
“Is there anything I can do about it?”
After a few more hums and haws; “Well,
sometimes, the breasts just go away
themselves, but the most effective method
for removing them is surgery.” “Thanks
a lot for your help, I might well call again.”

……………………………………………………………………………*****

No More Cancer Patients
by Gordon Meade

It seems to me that there is
no such thing as a cancer patient.
In my eyes, in order to try and survive,
you must attempt to maintain a boundary
between the illness and yourself.

In other words, do not allow
yourself to be defined by it – I am
not a cancer patient. I am a human
being who happens to have cancer.
On the other hand, it might be

nice if some of the members
of the medical profession were able
to see you just as that; a cancer
patient, instead of just another case
of cancer, another illness without

a human being attached to it.
In my mind’s eye, there are at least
two forms of denial at work here;
the one that allows you to have a life
outside the narrow limitations

of any definition, and the other, that
condemns you to being nothing but. One
for yourself, and the other for the doctors.
Both of them are forms of poison; one
of which can cure, and the other kill.

……………………………………………………………………………..*****

I left work in an X-Ray Taxi
by Ken Brady

Never to return, they didn’t miss me
From hospitality to hospital
On a memory foam mattress, I’d rather forget
In a room full of strangers, who were waiting to die
Fed and fussed over, this was better than home
For the screaming young man with a pensioner’s hip
He was dragged out of self pity by a one legged child
other and nurse agreed, she’d been ever so brave
But not even mummy’s tears could take away this pain
I’d love to see my mother, but hate her to see me like this
Each year a new condition, with no memory to collate
If you can walk a mile in my shoes, you’ve missed the point
Gout is the smell of a dead rat, distilled into pain.

……………………………………………………………………….*****

Away day
by Liz Kay

The cheap seats are only so to those who don’t believe in obscurity. Through the crowd of heads, nodding like balloons half filled with helium, she enjoys her eyes having to dart in order to watch their leader.
Paper plate face and marker pen grin, his stretched sweater displays a tummy bursting fatter than any of his patients’. His chest leads his pursuing of the room as his sausage fingers slap a ‘C’ onto each table;
one for Caring,
one for Compassionate,
one for Courageous,
one for Committed,
one for Communicative,
and one for Competent. Balloon heads bow and scribble onto flip chart paper. Twenty minutes start now. On the cheap seat, boredom settles so that curiosity can bubble. She prods her finger deep into her ear for the brain’s umbilical cord. Its frayed end reaches her. She twists, then pinches, tugs a little, then a lot, until out tumbles the gnarled pea; crevices deep and shiny. It glides skillfully under the seat. She observes some fluff attracting to the temporal lobe. Her head spins. Murmuring and scribbles blur into space and her eyes spy the fire escape. Danger and truth spark her feet into action.
The view across the city requires vision. Across the mud of the rugby field, broken fences seek to contain tired fields. Over the hill, steel drums beat clear, pulling her to breathe in clouds as she flies to the the dried up basin.
She hovers close over the landfill site as the drums get louder. A stench rises, filling her empty head and causing her body to flounder. She lands at the edge of the first mound, sweeps a clearing for a makeshift bed. Her head rolls in the dirt. To the left, a caterpillar nibbles a candle. To the right, a camel kicks cinnamon dust.
The earth beneath her shudders, ringing through her body. A scream fills her head’s cavity.
……………‘Waaaater!’
She looks around, checks the dump for help. Her face swells. Her body clenches. It knows it’s too late.
……….    All I have are tears.’  Her voice falters and her cry bounces hard from the ground.
………………………………………………………………..*
The camel beckons her onto his back. Her legs cling to the beast’s side as they stride over the hill. Grandfather sun enjoys their rhythm, caressing the twosome. She squeezes her pocket as they climb the metal steps.
Twenty minutes end now.
She breathes out clouds. They reach the uncommunicative; the clarity helps them find their voices.
Caterpillar crawls around her forefinger before squiggling off to play with the uncaring. Camel snuggles amongst the uncommitted, tucking them in tight. She pats his brow then dances past the candle, shining bright for those who lack courage. Her fingertips sprinkle cinnamon amongst the incompetent, spiking their creativity. She cries for those without compassion. Silently, they follow her lead. Back at the cheap seat, she reclaims the pea. Rolls it around like a fresh bogey. Smiling, she kicks it hard over the hill. It drops to the landfill.

……………………………………………………………………………….*****

Scan
Pat Edwards

Like a map of all the guts it takes
to drive a heart, lungs, kidneys,
the mesh of grey and white
hides pathways to places
no one wants to go.

Turn a corner to cells not yet lost.
Climb a peak to view tributaries
carrying who knows what.
Search out caverns where
there may be growth.

When they get you up on screen,
they talk about you as if you weren’t there.
They talk about your masses and your shadows,
your chances if they were to make
diversions, alter your landscape.

All I hear is the voice saying
hold your breath,
then,
breathe normally.

………………………………………………………………………*****

The Town that Didn’t Stare
by Pat Edwards

You could almost smell cordite burning flesh,
feel loss of youthful face in every sense,
but no-one stared.

Expressions frozen into place by blasts
from what passed as rotten luck old boy,
but no-one stared.

They were the men of the Guinea Pig Club,
entry by means of an unkind special pass,
but no one stared

Their treatment was strange new alchemy,
mix of skin grafts and human warmth,
but no one stared

Learning how to re-mould their outer shell,
working on the scars both in and out,
but no one stared

Townsfolk reflected in a wartime mirror
held up to help us judge ourselves,
by not staring.

………………………………………………………………………….*****

Northwick Park Kiss
by Steve Shepherd

I volunteered two evenings a week
at the hospital
in the geriatric ward

I was scared at first
but warmed to it
finding myself curious and kind

I soon discovered the sluice
and bedpans
and the bottles old men used

here’s something else I discovered:

when you raise a spoon
to someone else’s lips
your own mouth moves

ten years later
feeding our first baby
I remembered the ward

and I remembered the woman
who, unable to feed herself or talk,
kissed my hand and held it to her cheek

.…………………………………………………………………………*****

I Sat with a Dying Woman
by Steve Shepherd

under too bright lights
in a pale room
holding a frail hand
and listening to a chain of breaths
I sat with a dying woman
and the world
that only she knew
faded away

and when I was alone
I fetched the sister
who held a small mirror
to the body’s mouth
and checked for dentures
and pulled the sheet up
and thanked me
and asked if I was alright
which I was

………………………………………………………………………………..*****

All the Blue Madonnas
by Kathleen Jones

She hadn’t known that she would hate the baby. Before the birth she’d felt warm with love for it, stretching like a cat between pillows and duvet – early morning and the sun already patterning the wall with the leaf shapes of the tree outside and herself flowering, big with pregnancy, breasts heavy with coming milk, putting her hand on the taut skin of her stomach feeling the child bump and dive against her fingers.

Then it had been easy. She’d been addicted to the tiny, crisp cherry tomatoes just in season, eating carton after carton, dipping them in salt and bursting them in her mouth – their straight-from-the-fridge coldness making her teeth ache, the sharp juice catching in her throat.

That was what she remembered about being pregnant. Not much about the birth. Her stomach by then taut as a tomato skin and ready to burst. The pain splitting her open like a crack, the burning ring of her cervix eventually becoming all of her as she spun round it in darkness through galaxies and galaxies of pain.

They laid it on her stomach, bloodstained and waterlogged, and stood over her looking pleased.

`It’s a boy,’ the midwife said, smiling.

The limbs moved convulsively, the mouth opened and shut. It’s head was covered in thick black hair matted with slime.

`Take it away,’ she said, closing her eyes. All she wanted to do was sleep.

It was because they hadn’t bonded, the health visitor said – newly back from a course in counselling, very middle-class in her Next suit. The midwife should have put the baby to her breast immediately. `And, of course, I do think it a tremendous mistake not to clean them up before giving them to Mummy. The newborn are so unappealing.’

Post-natal depression, said her GP, and gave her a prescription for tranquillisers. They receded reality so far she walked almost all the way home before she realised she’d left the baby in the pram on the pavement outside the chemist.

`You shouldn’t have had a baby on your own,’ her mother said. `Single mothers weren’t meant to have children. It isn’t right.’ But she didn’t know how she’d have coped if there had been a man in her life wanting an equal amount of her attention.

No-one had told her that it would cry like that. That it would demand every minute of her time. That every nerve end would be tuned to it, responding like delicate antennae to the least fluctuation of its breathing.

`It’s the three month syndrome,’ her friends told her. `At three months they stop crying. Like magic.’

But at two o’clock in the morning as she rocked him to and fro against her shoulder looking out at the dark street with frost forming halos round the street lamps, she knew that this was the rest of her life.

She could feel the baby like a malevolent monster, growing bigger and bigger daily as she herself shrank. This strong, male child sucking her down, swallowing her up until she only existed as a shadow, a lifeless husk who picked him up and put him down.

`Such a bonny boy,’ her mother said.

`A picture of health,’ the health visitor said.

`Not much wrong with him,’ said her GP, as he slid the needle for the triple injection into a fat buttock.

There was a picture of the madonna on the surgery wall, robed in blue with a halo of gold holding a smiling, pink-fleshed, perfect child. The madonna’s eyes were stern as they looked out from the picture.

As she left the surgery all the madonnas in the world were looking down at her and frowning.

`What are you going to call him?’ everyone asked, hoping for paternity clues in the answer.

Before he was born she’d scanned books and books of names turning their syllables on her tongue as she folded baby clothes in an endless inventory, Albert, Carlotta, Christaphine, Imelda, Iolanthe, Ismael, Svetlana, Tatiana, Troy. People presumably called
their children these names. She remembered aunts called Doris, Hilda and Maude. Perhaps these, too, would come back into fashion.

If it was a girl, she decided, she would call her Justine, after a novel she’d once read when she was sixteen and romantic. If it was a boy, Justin. Just-in-time, her friends quipped, Just-in-case.

But, somehow, when she looked down at the malevolent child looking up at her from the broderie anglais baby linen she couldn’t put a name to the face at all.

At six weeks they wrote to her. It was an offence to leave a birth unregistered. She
eventually found the baby book at the back of a cupboard where she’d pushed all those other relics of `before’ when she came back from the hospital. She closed her eyes and opened it at random, jabbing her finger down onto a line. Isaac. Rather a cruel irony. The only, late, much-longed for child of Sarah. Or so the story went. Did Sarah too secretly loathe her gift? Is that why she meekly gave him to Abraham when he went up the mountain to sacrifice? Was it joy she cried for when her husband brought him down again, saved by the ram in a thicket?

When she looked up, almost hallucinating with fatigue, a woman was standing there, holding a suitcase. Dyed blonde hair, sensible shoes, wearing a dark blue skirt and white blouse. She was smiling. ‘I’m your grandma. My name’s Ann. We haven’t seen much of each other since you were small.’ She put the suitcase down and said, ‘I’ve come to help.’

‘There’s no need . . .’

‘Oh but there is,’ her grandmother said, holding out her arms. ‘Give him to me, my pet, give him to me.’

But she held the baby tighter and tighter. Suddenly precious, it didn’t seem possible to give him to anyone else. She looked up into Ann’s eyes. They were dark and serious and full of understanding.

‘It’s no trouble,’Ann said, scooping the wailing bundle out of her arms. She put him against her shoulder and rocked him up and down the room for a few paces. The crying stopped. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘You are going straight to bed. What you need is sleep. Where’s the formula?’

Too tired to speak, she pointed to the unused steriliser and the unopened milk pack on the kitchen worktop. Ann put an arm around her and she put her head on her grandmother’s shoulder next to the baby. ‘Sleep. You both need sleep. I remember what it was like. I’ve taken time off and I’m here for as long as I’m useful’. She gave her a little nudge towards the stairs. ‘Bed!’

As she went up the stairs everything in the house was perfectly silent. She could hear a blackbird singing joyfully in the bush outside the window and as she lay on the bed it was the last thing she remembered before she closed her eyes.

…………………………………………………………………………..*****

A Table Unset
by Paul Waring

She stands as if waiting
for life to make up her mind —
unsure of where she is
or what happens next.

In her world you lose contact
with time — spend hours
at windows unable to see
a future — then wander

around rooms not knowing
why or how much you miss
robin’s return, sweet blackbird song
and each season’s open and close.

And for longer than she knows
tea goes cold inside forgotten cups
as she stares in silence beyond
the table unset since he passed.

…………………………………………………………………………*****

Life in the Fast Lane
by Julia Angell

Across the Preseli’s
there’s no need for a siren.
Only if sheep are
in the road,
or it snows and
the sledgers park stupidly.
Over the cattle grid
it’s a steady ascent,
strapped down I clutch
the comfort blanket
hoping its been washed
since the last user.
On the way to ‘Bomber Regis’
I used to ask,
‘Are we nearly there yet?’
Sight of the gasometer
meant we were.
It’s out of my hands again,
like those journeys
when I’d be sick
down my ABC dress.
A steady descent,
I grip the oxygen mask
with my free hand.
It distracts me
from the lack of
gasometer,
and my racing heart.

It’s the last cattle grid that sets the pace.

………………………………………………………………………*****

2063
by Mark Blayney

The antibiotics no longer work
and we must make our own medicines.

Mine are all variations on Singapore curry.
I add chillies till my eyes water

which has the added advantage that
no one will come near me.

The churches are empty; at least
in times of plague we’ve learnt that much.

From an orange rooftop I wonder
what Singapore must be like.

Life will be easier if snow arrives
and our invisible futures pause,

take stock, rally the troops,
wait for spring.

…………………………………………………………………..****

Asclepius’ Country
By Daniel John Tasker

From the year of 1948, where victims were still feeling,
The flames of Ares, to this day, there has never been as great,
An achievement of Britannia as this wondrous shrine of healing.
Asclepius demands not coin upfront within this state.

The priceless gem of Bevan’s mind shone forth as awful tension,
Raged between two titans, to each other’s plans opposed.
Crippled veterans, wives, the wizened soul who’d earned his pension,
All received free treatment as the old world decomposed.

For decades our resplendent jewel has made our flag worth flying,
Pills repair the ill, saints unsung tend to the lame,
And though the greedy would rejoice in witnessing it dying,
An ailing, foreign pauper’s views, I doubt would be the same.

We’ve seen dictators overthrown and ancient ways supplanted,
Quantum leaps in science and the peasant rise and thrive.
But despite all that we’ve come to learn, it is still taken for granted;
The very thing that keeps the backbone of our land alive.

Few bask within the golden glow of such a grand creation,
Which legislation and the toiling peoples’ sweat preserve.
‘Tis not power… but compassion that defines a gleaming nation.
Care and medication, all human-beings deserve.

No child of this planet, irrespective of their creed,
Should see their health commoditised by those who hold the reigns.
A realm of kindly nurses is a blessed realm indeed.
When workers conquer sickness, an entire country gains.

From 1962 towards the Five Year Forward view,
The fruit of Attlee’s tenor held the shield of our law.
May it one day take its sword in hand and run foul cancer through
And may we remember that this gift, is well worth fighting for.

………………………………………………………………………..*****

Doris: Lesley Barlow Clacton Funeral Services
by Kathleen Strafford

These words roll by every morning when I’m on the bus
& I growl at people
………………who are surprised I’m still alive
…………………………..after being mugged and burgled
Such a jigsaw puzzle…… this life

War flashbacks ruined my husband
He said….. When I die, bury me under the rhubarb.

Our dog barks as I order my damaged legs to move
………………………………………...Come on, we’re going walkies

A gentleman turned to me and said:
Madam, are you aware you have different size shoes?
Are you aware your socks are odd?

I said, Yes Sir, I am ……are you aware you can fuck right off?

They put me in a home after I was attacked
………….I’m not daft …………..taught myself to walk again I
…………………………..& walked home to my stripped-out house
……………………………………..and a fox staring at me who would have made
……………………………………..a better Davey Crockett cap rather than a hungry
…………………………………………………companion ……so I grabbed my hatchet
……………….Come ’ere foxy foxy foxy ………..Come’ere ya ginge-tailed headcosy
…..My legs might be gone, but my brain isn’t

My husband died …..but the rhubarb turned black
……………………………………with him underneath
………………..Our dog died of shock

Every morning when I’m on the bus
I glance out and these words roll by
……………..Lesley Barlow
and I mutter
……………Not today Lesley
……………….I have rhubarb to grow
…………………………………a fox to catch
……………………………………….a hat to carve
………………………………………………………Not today


Biographies

Susan Castillo has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (2003), Abiding Chemistry,  (2015), and Constellations (2016. Her poetry has appeared in Southern Quarterly, Prole, The High Window, Ink Sweat & Tears, Messages in a Bottle, The Missing Slate, Clear Poetry, Prole, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Foliate Oak, The Lake, Algebra of Owls,The Yellow Chair Review, Poetry Shed, and other journals and anthologies.

Adam Steiner’s poetry and fiction appear in Rockland Lit, Proletarian Poetry, The Next Review, Fractured Nuance zine, BoscRev: 4, The Weary Blues, The Stare’s Nest, ShoutOut UK, 3:AM, The Cadaverine. Adam recently completed the Disappear Here project to produce a series of 27 collaborative poetry films about Coventry ring road. Politics of the Asylum is Adam’s debut novel, a nightmare vision of the NHS, it is available now from Urbane Publications. @BurndtOutWard

Gareth Witers-Davis His pamphlet “Bodies”, was published in 2015  by Indigo Dreams and the pamphlet “Cry Baby” came out in November, 2017. His collection “The Lover’s Pinch” is due in 2018.

Miki Byrne is a disabled poet familiar with the NHS since birth. She has had three poetry collections published and almost five hundred poems in magazines/anthologies. She lives in Gloucestershire.

Sophie Fenella is a poet and a teacher from London. Her poetry advocates social change and makes the political personal. Previous publications include Magma, Popshot, The Rialto, The Morning Star and Rising.

Linda Menzies lives in Fife.  Her work has appeared in a number of magazines, e-zines and anthologies including Writing Dundee, Shortbread, Green Queen, East Lothian Life, Contour, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine and The Fat Damsel. She’s won prizes for both poetry and short stories. Publications: Epiphanies (poetry, 2009) and Into the Light (poetry/ short stories 2014).

Nina Simon During the working week, Nina is a librarian, working with schools, promoting reading for pleasure.  Away from the confines of earning a living she heads to the gym and loves to delve into her imagination to write poetry and stories.

Alexander Hamilton is a mixed-media artist, formerly a Theatrical Property Maker. A published poet and an accidental farmer as a consequence of buying a hill farm because it had a barn he could use as a workshop.

John Scottie Collins was born and brought up in Scotland. He writes short fiction and his work has been published in several literary journals. He is a retired social worker and lives on the Wirral near Liverpool.

Maggie Mackay has work online and in print, including the #MeToo anthology.  Her poems have been nominated for The Forward Prize, Best Single Poem in 2017 and 2018 with one commended in the recent Mothers Milk Writing Prize. Her first pamphlet will be published this year.

Rebecca Gethin had two pamphlets published in 2017: A Sprig of Rowan and All the Time in the World. She has been a Hawthornden Fellow. In 2018 she jointly won the Coast to Coast Pamphlet competition and has a writing residency at Brisons Veor coming  up.  www.rebeccagethin.wordpress.com

Trish Bennett dabbled for years before ‘coming out’ as a writer in 2016.  Nowadays, her family are afraid to open their mouths around her for fear she’ll turn it into something. Bennett has won awards, been published in several magazines and anthologies and read her work on BBC Radio Radio Ulster.  She is working on her first anthology of poetry. Find out more on Bennett’s Babblings.  Facebook: Trish Bennett Writer. Twitter:  @baabennett

Peter J. King (b. Boston, Lincolnshire) teaches philosophy at Pembroke College, Oxford.  His poetry, including translations from German and modern Greek, has been published widely in journals.  His latest collections are “Adding Colours to the Chameleon” (2016, Wisdom’s Bottom Press) and “All What Larkin” (2017, Albion Beatnik Press).  He runs the “In the Pink” series of poetry readings at Pembroke College.  https://wisdomsbottompress.wordpress.com/

Liz Kay has been published in print and online and she was third in the Winchester Writers’ Festival Competition – Flash Fiction category 2017. She is co-founder of ‘The Writing Kiln’, a Stoke-on-Trent community project aiming to inspire writing potential.

Rona Fitzgerald was born in Dublin and now lives in Glasgow.Her most recent publications are Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry, Oxford Poetry XVI.iii Winter 2016-17. Ten poems in Resurrection of a Sunflower, Pski’s Porch 2017, two poems in Ramingo’s Porch Winter 2017. Her poems are included in Dark Bones a Grenfell anthology 201 and #MeToo a woman’s poetry anthology, Fair Acre Press 2018.

Gordon Meade is a Scottish poet based in Fife. He divides his time between his own writing and running creative writing workshops for vulnerable people in different settings. His most recent collection, The Year of the Crab, was published in 2017.

Ken Brady is a Gateshead based comedian, writer and promoter, responsible for “Arch Remarks” a normally monthly mix of poetry, comedy and music, which goes weekly in July to showcase Edinburgh previews.

Pat Edwards is a writer, teacher and performer from Mid Wales. She has been published more recently in Prole, The Curlew, Ink Sweat and Tears, Magma (due this summer) and Deborah Alma’s #Me Too Anthology. Pat runs Verbatim poetry open mic nights and curates Welshpool Poetry Festival.

Steve Shepherd lives in St Davids and has been writing poetry for a decade. In a previous existence, he was a  jazz producer at BBC Radio 3. Before that in 1983 he went to medical school but only for a year. In that year he discovered that needles were not for him and he met his partner, Maria. 35 years on she’s an NHS consultant and he writes poems.

Kathleen Jones is a poet and author living in the Lake District.  Like the old woman who lived in a shoe, she has quite a lot of children and grandchildren, and is eternally grateful for the NHS!  www.kathleenjones.co.uk www.kathleenjonesauthor.blogspot.com

Paul Waring is a semi-retired clinical psychologist who once designed menswear and was a singer/songwriter in Liverpool bands. His poems have been widely published in print journals, anthologies and online magazines. Paul’s blog is https://waringwords.wordpress.com

Julia Angell is a member of PENfro Poets of  Rhosygilwen and a Cellar Bard. She lives ‘on the edge’ in rural West Wales. In four years she has had four trips across the hills to A&E, almost an hours journey. Now the NHS are planning to have just one A&E, even further away, to cover 25% of Wales. Her heart races at the thought…

Mark Blayney won the Somerset Maugham Award for Two kinds of silence. Third story collection Doppelgangers and poetry Loud music makes you drive faster are published by Parthian. He’s a Hay Festival Writer at Work and longlisted for the National Poetry Competition. markblayney.weebly.com

Daniel John Tasker was raised in a hard-working working-class family. And was brought up with a great love for our national health service.

Michelle Diaz lives in the colourful town of Glastonbury. She has been published by Prole, Strix, Amaryllis, Picaroon and was included in the ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’ anthology. She lives with her 11 year old son who has Tourette Syndrome. Without poetry, her soul would be incredibly hungry.

Kathleen Strafford is the editor for Runcible Spoon Webzine & her debut collection of poetry “Her Own Language” was published January 2018.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


4 thoughts on “The Writers’ Cafe Magazine – ISSUE 9 “Our National Health”

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