(Thanks to Philip for lead)
On the walls are posters,
torn or curled at the edges.
One teaches mothers the stages
of looking after their babies
with milk from the sponsor’s powder.
One posits the question:
Did I drink to do what l did –
or do it because I was drinking?
Yet another gives a number
to call if you think you’ve AIDS.
In the gloom, no one looks at them.
Perhaps we’ve seen them too often,
or have more immediate perils, like
the light bill, or moneylenders,
or a spouse who’s chronically ill.
Old and young, we queue here
on benches and plastic chairs
when the last resort is a cheque
or voucher we may or may not get,
and this is how we spend our days.
THE YEAR OF THE KNIFE
This voice speaks because it must,
when it overflows with endless night,
its jaws strained tighter than a Norman bow.
It is a denizen of darkness;
a drugtaster; a subject of the knife.
It lies on boards like a specimen:
caged, betubed, unmasked, outnumbered.
It dwells in a clenched fist,
outside of what it was, and speaks
with sober lips, knowing it is alive.
Its brain is sealed in green ice.
Its spine is stopped with jagged morse.
Its bones roar in rebellion,
its mouth will not open.
This voice speaks because it can.
In the sleepless reich of phantom pain,
it struggles to name the nameless.
It baulks at forfeiting its reasons.
It burns at the flight of will to have them.
It drunkenly swims in exhaustion.
It joins in the chorus of moans.
Nights in a hospital cot:
beyond its bars
a great toy horse
that a child’s breath
A crab blindly crawls
to devour marrow
until the bone is hollow.
There are coloured rings
above the door –
the rings of Saturn:
space falling inward
on a pillow
in dimmed light.
A radium machine hums.
Thousands of Röntgens
are aimed at rampant cells,
burning them and the flesh
which conceals them
down to the bone.
in the back of beyond,
under every stone;
in neon lights
blinking in the low quarter,
in the surprising embrace
at at every turn,
one of the children
will live beyond reason,
to sift long for a sign
of why one might survive
and another must die.
The answer may lie
in the hidden wedding
of things, in the distance
between the X-ray and bone;
but the dead children live
in something of them he recalls
in the story of the rocking horse
lost in Saturn’s golden clouds.
The pale Queen has passed,
astride her white horse.
No one, not even she
knows why she has chosen.
She travels towards the sun
as it rises across the earth
and lets fall one
from her purse of death
into the endeavour of rebirth.
Watch over the sleepng children,
white horse. White horse, rock.
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