If I’m Early

Every other day I follow the route
of the Midland Railway
to where it cuts through
St Pancras Old Church Cemetery.
I might go into the church
and heave a sigh or two
before continuing via a gate
set in the cemetery wall
to the Mary Rankin Wing
of St Pancras Hospital.

As a young man, Thomas Hardy
supervised the removal of bodies
from part of the cemetery
to make way for the trains.
He placed the headstones
round an ash tree sapling,
now grown tall, where I stop sometimes
to look at the stones
crowding round the old tree
like children listening to a story.

A Game of Dialysis

The home team appears
in a blue strip, while the visitors
keep on their street clothes.
We find our positions
from the file with our name on it
placed beside our bed.
Now all we can do is wait
for the opposition to make a move.
We don’t like our chances.

The action commences
with the home team wandering about,
or making a tour of the circuit.
Certain moves are typical –
lengthwise, for example,
carrying something,
is a popular move, or scoring points
by passing back and forth
between the glove dispenser
and the needle disposal box.

The visitors can only look on
as the enemy’s game plan emerges.
We score by keeping quiet
about our disadvantages,
or saying something funny.
Whether anyone gets hurt
depends on who is marking whom.
The blues fan out round the room.
Each of them is doing something difficult
to somebody lying down.

The Art of Needling

You find out early on
that some of the nurses
are better than others
at the art of needling.
You have to ascertain

who’s on duty
that knows what they’re doing,
someone familiar
with your fistula arm
and beg him to ‘put you on’.

If he’s any good
he’ll take his time
raising or lowering the bed,
laying out his things on the tray.
He won’t forget the spray.

He’ll listen to the ‘bruit’
produced by your fistula.
He’ll note the ‘thrill’ of it,
feel it with his finger.
Only then will he go in.

Even so, a wayward needle
can pierce a fistula wall,
causing a ‘blow’ to occur.
Then you have to go to A&E
for a fistulaplasty.

The Dog

A dog has got hold of my arm
and is dragging me down.
Its canines pierce an artery.
Its entrails twitch with my blood.

Whenever I am brought in
for further questioning,
the dog stands over me,
grinding its teeth in my flesh.

It’s like being nailed to the floor
and told to relax.
Blood spurts like a confession.

This is what dogs are for,
to find out who you are.

I watch its eyes going round,
analysing the evidence.
I’ll admit to anything.

The Angel of the Needles

The beauty of the Indian nurse
puts the fear of God in me
when she approaches my bed
carrying the blue tray.

Did she have to take a needling test
like other mortals?
Or did they let her in
for being one of the angels?

I want her to like me,
but I have to look away
when she strips the paper from the needles
and bends over me.

She applies the tourniquet
and lays a finger on the vein.
Something about her touch
makes the needles melt in my flesh.

She takes away the pain
by telling me in a mournful tone
about her son Ibrahim
who is bullied at school
for the mixed pigments on his face.

Ray’s Way

Ray Blighter appears in the doorway
of the dialysis ward
in all his ruined finery –
waistcoat, buttonhole, blazer,
eyebrows dashed in with mascara –
and pauses for a moment to ensure
all eyes are upon him.

‘MY NAME IS BOND’ he shouts
to the assembled company.
He sets off down the line of beds,
muttering, looking straight ahead,
yellowing grey flannels
flapping round his ankles.

He’s two hours late,
having been ‘run over by a bus’,
but God help anyone who’s taken
his precious corner bed.
If the rabbi is there ahead of him
he’s liable to turn around
and go home again.

He sets out his life
on the table across his bed –
beer cans, biscuits, betting slips,
a hairbrush, aftershave,
a radio tuned to Radio 2,
the only one allowed on the ward
because Ray is a ‘character’.

He goes and stands in the fire exit
for his ritual ‘last cigarette’
before he kills himself.
‘Do you smoke Morland Specials
with the three gold rings?’ I ask.
Ray lifts a coal-black eyebrow.
‘Do you think I look like Sean Connery?’

He acted with Sean, he tells me,
in several James Bond films,
including Live and Let Die.
‘And no, not as a bleeding extra!’
When he goes on to describe his role
in Bridge on the Fucking River Kwai
the penny drops.

Trapped in his own Japanese
prisoner-of-war camp for ten years,
he’s lied and cursed his way free.
‘I won’t be coming in on Monday’,
he tells me confidentially.
‘I’m going to the fucking races.’
Of course he is. I may be there myself.


The shock of remembering,
having forgotten for a second,
that this isn’t a cure,
but a kind of false health,
like drug addiction.

It performs the trick
of taking off the water
which builds up in your system,
bloating your body,
raising your blood pressure.

It sieves you clean of muck
for a day or two,
by means of a transparent tube
full of pinkish sand
hanging next to your machine.

Your kidneys like the idea
of not having to work any more
and gradually shut down,
leaving you dependent.
Then you stop peeing.

Dialysis is bad for you.
You feel sick
most of the time, until the end.
The shock of remembering,
having forgotten for a second.


I’m technically dead, they tell me,
but I remember being alive
as if it were yesterday.
I’m covered in mud, like a zombie,
swimming around
in the storms of a new grave.

I remember the world above
and what it was like up there,
thanks to a friend
who sucks my blood for me.
He keeps me alive
in the sense that memories are alive.

Going Home

Leaving behind the Gothic frowns
of the former workhouse, I pass through a gate
into a churchyard overhung by great trees,
where the nurses go to smoke.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s tomb,
where Shelley proposed to her daughter,
escaped demolition by Thomas Hardy
and seems to be plunging off into a storm.

Shelley’s heart, wrapped in a brown paper parcel,
Hardy took by train to Bournemouth,
sitting in a first class compartment
with the heart on his knee.

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