At the Nursing Home

At the Nursing Home

I lie in the stiff unloving arms of my hospital bed:
A touch of gout, my old intestinal problem,
And high BP (“It’ll get you some day. It always does”,
A cheerful colleague -long dead- once tellingly remarked).

I switch on the light and learn it’s a quarter to three:
Time to check my dull old pulse (just to make sure the colleague was wrong)
And survey my newly painted cell -walls, shelves, window sill-
For signs of any concession to individuality.

No Gaughins for sure, though a large gecko stares down at me
As I wait for kind Nurse T to come around and say:
“Your tablet, Mr D, then time for your temperature.
We wouldn’t want you giving up on us today, now would we?”

My pulse revives as I skim through a tome on the Black Death (prised from the floor).
In the dimness beyond, the soft tread of secretive feet
Makes its long way down the linoleumed corridor
And becomes public knowledge outside my timorous door.

The matron (not really my type) is out on the prowl.
“Your behaviour is quite intolerable," she snaps. "Sneaking out,
Without even lightly tinkling your bell, will never do.
And dressed only in shorts, nightcap and nursing home towel!”

Yes, in her corridors they wheeled out the dead to the waiting night hearse,
While the ibises in the park screeched ancient abuse,
And the heartless peacocks pleaded mockingly for salvation,
And a tide of bloated frogs croaked to the universe.

In my cell they died like flies. I can recall them without trouble:
Faces, dates, piteous words. One who looked like Spencer Tracy.
One with Wallis Simpson smiles. One bespectacled like Ernest Bevin.
One a font of bardic prose. Even perhaps my sleep-bound double.

What can be said of them is this: to die here you needed to be Brit.
All that was expected of you was to bear your burden manfully,
And if you survived the feverish strains of subtropical night
You’d awaken to a future on which the sun’s long set.

Tomorrow I’ll get dressed, nothing terribly swank or replete,
And make my way down the long anaesthetised corridors;
And when nobody’s looking, will quietly discharge myself
Into the arms of the backpacker’s office, and book a repeat!

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