The quality of mercy

Apropos of nothing at all, I was idling through the hundreds of poems I've written and stowed away unread over these many years when I came across this one. At age 63 I'd suffered a sudden, exquisite pain in the abdomen region and had, for the first time in my life, to be rushed into a Winchester hospital.

The 'she who had no need to care' was the young doctor who spotted yellowing of face and promoted me in the queue to emergency status. This was for her ...


Thoughts from Twyford Ward at Christmas
  
When you are told, undress, it's just as if,
Unprotesting you are taking off your self;
Abed you soon become that bed, your clothes,
Your self together folded on the shelf;
You think at first that hospitals are blind
To 'ought but sickness, know you just from charts
That hang upon the footrail of your bed,
You're just the sum of your defective parts,
And yet compassion is a river deep
That under-runs the vastness of this place,
I instance she who had no need to care
Whose caring vastly aided my repair.

Christmas watching David Copperfield
In this my only hospital (so far!)
With time and space enough to yield to
Dickens' tale and the progress of my star
Above the sixty three high Christmas tides,
Whose flows and ebbs way-mark my life:
Is it my sense of cosy helplessness
Or Davey’s in the end successful strife
That spurs my deepest thoughts and questions?
Or festive signs that sparkle everywhere
Here in this warm retreat from cold reality
Where sometime pain's the only penalty?

Or the unsmiling ancient over there
For whom the bright-lit glory of this world
Has long since darkened, shrunk inside to share
The bony cage, the pain-wracked bounds of self
Alone, most trace of grace now gone and now
Who pleads to be let home for Christmas Day
And gives his faltering word, his heart-felt vow
He would return that eve, come yet what may…
Might I have seen my Christmas future there
In breathless rattling chest, bent form, not least
Of the indignities great age can bring
To those who to a kind of living cling?

Or the tableau played between the old
Sicilian and the smart young nurse who needs
Through kindly firmness to impose her will
And not accept her rebel patient's leads,
He with his 'bloody ’ells', his loud guffaws
And she with sternly issued reprimands
In words he does not wish to comprehend
'Til she can do no more than raise her hands,
Give in and shake her shining soft black hair
And grin - now see how keenly those old eyes
Look for that spark that lives within a smile
And which can still the stuff of life ignite
In an exhausted frame, a care-worn brow
Enclosing sleeping memories, woken now…

…That laughing girl with basket on brown arm…
Bright curls her head-scarf failed to tie within
Hot growing earth smell of that hillside's warm
Embrace, soft touch of her sweat-beaded skin,
The bold sun-colours of that olive grove
When he, somebody, was a man of pride,
His lifted heart so strong, so bound in love
That what he wished to take was not denied
And he had made a present of himself,
Of moon and stars to such a one as this…

But most is peaceful here on earth tonight
As I and my thrombotic new-found pal
Range in our conversation left and right
Like why are there no sick wild animals
Just healthy ones and those that soon by dint
Of age or violence careful nature culls:
And have we maybe just lost sight of why
Man must at all costs nature over-rule
No longer seeking reason nor for rhyme?
This day it seems that living counts the least
And pride and purpose are what count the most
To this we raise our glasses, drink our toast.

Oh silent night of good king Wenceslas
Now hark the herald angels sing out loud
As here in Twyford Ward the choir en masse
Delivers Christmas carols, cheerful crowd,
To patients come in fear, in helpless search
Of help, distressed, and of an end to pain -
And hope, as they who issue from the church,
To go in thoughtfulness as born again;
And maybe nurse and doctor, orderly
Attending to the sick this Christmas day
Are closest to that Christ-child's glad re-birth;
To glory in the highest, peace on earth.


Bryan Islip
Christmas 97

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