Six Poems | Hugo Williams


    The following piece is from our August/September issue, which you can buy here.

    Hugo Williams

    Six Poems


    Dear Arm

    How many times, dear arm,
    have you put yourself in danger
    for my sake? How many times
    have you found your way home
    through the dark, or saved me from falling?
    I didn’t have to ask you twice.

    Poor arm! I broke you once.
    I burnt you once. More than once
    I cursed your weakness
    at arm-wrestling and swimming,
    but I was proud of your tan
    when I rolled up my sleeve at school.

    You aren’t so handsome now,
    but you soldier on, one of the faithful
    in my band of volunteers,
    my noble standard bearer
    in the war within a war,
    the daily clash of purposes.

    Dear arm, hold still for me now,
    while I make you suffer once more.
    Be brave, while the surgeon
    creates an ‘access fistula’
    that will wash my blood for me.
    It seems you must save my life as usual.


    Dialysis Days

    For the first time in my life
    I have a regular job to go to.
    Not a very good one perhaps,
    but better than nothing
    if you don’t mind doing nothing for a living.
    Unpaid of course, but the social worker
    says she can get me £50 a week
    ‘Attendance Allowance’ if I’m lucky.
    ‘They’ll turn us down the first time we apply,
    but we’ll get it on appeal.’

    She was right. All I have to do
    is get myself to the workplace on time
    and roll up a blood-stained sleeve.
    I grab a sandwich at the Angel Pret,
    then take the little 214 down Pentonville
    to St Pancras Old Church Cemetery
    with its workhouse out of Oliver Twist.
    My job is holding out my hand
    to a machine, palm up, like a beggar,
    and doing my best not to move.

    It’s a leisurely life to be sure,
    going somewhere, waiting there for four hours,
    then going home again with a headache.
    You wonder whether it’s worth your while.

    By half-time you’re praying
    for the squeal of the tea-trolley
    coming round with its bonus
    of lemon-flavoured crushed ice.
    Now all you have to do is ask Yvette
    to open your biscuits for you.


    The Last of the Mohicans

    Popeye greets the assembled corpses
    in the Mary Rankin Dialysis Wing
    with his usual ‘Hi-de-hi, Campers.
    The wanderer returns!
    The Last of the Mohicans!’
    I toss him his favourite ‘Nice to see you’

    and he doesn’t let me down.
    ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ he shudders.
    ‘A foggy day in London Town.’
    He’s Scott of the Antarctic,
    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,
    Larry Grayson saying ‘Shut that door!’

    Or else he’s mopping his brow
    for ‘It ain’t half hot, Mum’, sweating it out
    in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
    Polly puts the kettle on
    and it’s tea and biscuits for Les Miserables.
    ‘Let them eat cake,’ says Popeye.

    Polly is in the Khyber again,
    but’s there’s no use crying over spilt milk.
    ‘Tea for two and you for me,’ sings Popeye.
    ‘Buy one and get one free, eh?’
    ‘The Battle of the Bulge?’ I say.
    ‘Great minds,’ he tells me, winking happily.



    If all else fails
    we might try you on
    the all-purpose
    anti-viral blockbuster
    known in the trade
    as Tyrannosaurus rex.

    This predatory beast
    undertakes a form
    of ethnic cleansing
    on your behalf,
    tracking down
    and terminating
    anything that moves.

    Don’t be alarmed.
    According to its
    manufacturer’s warning
    impacts negatively
    on your brain function
    hardly at all.


    The Leaving Test

    Medical student Ari-Non
    wants to see me take a shower
    to assess my hygiene skills
    before he lets me go home.
    His mouth turns down
    when I express doubts about this,
    but he says it doesn’t matter
    so long as I pass the shopping test.

    He takes me downstairs in a wheelchair
    and gets me to buy a newspaper
    in the hospital shop.
    I hesitate too long
    between The Mail and The Express,
    settling finally for The Sun.
    Ari-Non looks dubious about this,
    but he lets me carry on.

    He tells me to check my change,
    but it slips through my fingers
    and runs around the floor,
    causing me to hallucinate briefly.
    I make the mistake
    of mentioning to Ari-Non.
    His mouth turns down as
    as he writes something in his book.



    ‘Oh yes, we thought he was a goner,’
    the doctor tells his student nurse,
    drawing aside a green curtain
    to reveal his latest creation.
    She looks at me admiringly,
    imagining me dead. I take a little bow.

    I always feel unwell when I hear talk
    of my unscheduled return from the grave,
    but I put on a brave face
    and try to share their excitement
    at having pulled off another
    death-defying illusion.

    The doctor gets out his camera
    and takes a picture of me alive.
    His student poses smiling with the undead,
    a willing witness to the miracle.
    I put a friendly arm round her shoulders,
    but spare her the vampire kiss.


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