Poems by Jo Bell

A sequence of seven 14-lined poems by Jo Bell, written during her residency at Royal Derby Hospitals in 2010. Each poem originates in a particular location in the hospital complex.
I Waiting

They’re behind. This waiting – it’s another day
on wipe-clean chairs for me. A bit of peace.

I wouldn’t be here if Mim hadn’t nagged.
There’s more to this than varifocals, Jack.
The opto-bloke agreed. So off I went
for tests. The scan was blurry round the edge.
No wonder. There was more to it, alright:
a tumour like a bulb against my skull.
A hen’s egg of a thing, and me its shell.

That doctor wants a gong, if you ask me –
he’s quiet, like, but told me what was what.
I’m on the waiting list. And all that from
an eye test and a bolshy wife. We’ll see
whether it comes or goes. At least we’ll know.
II Smokers

Weather. It comes or goes. At least we’ll know
if Tomasz Shafernaker got it right
when he predicted thunderstorms
but Caz, in her pyjamas, doesn’t care.
Come rain or shine, come hot or cold, she’s here
with us three times an hour, to breathe it in
and light a fag. She doesn’t give a damn
for drizzle or for rainbows: all she knows
is that she’s out, and in it. The lobby doors
are glassy landmarks in a day of corridors
and we’re the stubborn smokers; villagers
who gather at the moat in dressing-gowns
with sodden slippers and waterproof jokes
to celebrate our days with tiny fires.
III At Home

We celebrate our days with tiny fires.
Six candles on the cake this time. Six months
since Azhar, hauling deep for air as if
it were the last drop in the well, tightened
to a muscled knot. My fish-bright son, arching
and purple in the paramedic’s arms.

That night, blue lights burst round the ambulance
like broken promises; a breathless snatch
of screen and railing, steel and sterile pad.
Today, six candy-stripes of steady flame.

Beyond him as he blows I see the park,
its half-grown birches candle-small and bright.
Further still, our hospital: moonlit, wakeful,
the helicopters settling on the roof.

Azhar – a boy’s name meaning shining, luminous

IV Delivered

The helicopter’s settling on the roof,
unsettling and waspish. Someone’s been
unravelled from a twisted motorbike,
found in a rush-hour twitch of chromosome
or broken off from shopping; making love
or coffee. Morning roads in Belper stall, and
start again. Up in the restaurant,
an urgent shiver in the ceiling tiles:
a shift of likelihoods, as if the walls
might part to show a burlesque club or bunker.
The hospital throws out its hand to catch
another morning of surprise and gasp,
another happenstance delivered. And
in Sinfin, someone’s answering the phone.

….in Sinfin. Someone’s answering the phone
says Jenny on reception, calm as snowfall,
talking to three people all at once.
Can you wiggle that for me? In A&E
the women all apologise: the men
feel foolish. Everyone explains. His ladder
with a bucket on the top, my bus stop
with its icy puddle. And the bicycles,
the endless bicycles; the ones that braked
or broke a bone and fell like wobbling coins.
Did you lose consciousness at all? No, worse:
I lost my grip. This is my wake-up call, to
break the bones of every hour for marrow.
Today, I can be anything I want.
VI Air

Today I can be anything I want,
the therapist explains. She means well. Well,
she means that I should visualise a stone,
a candle flame; a space as still as mirrors.

But ART! I’m breathless, heltering and dizzy
by the stairwell plinth. This marble clench,
this bone-warm bulge as natural as eggs.

Oh, I must raze the waiting rooms
and grub up tiles in all the corridors
and plant a hedgerow bright with beetles,
finched and brambled, tousling around the wards.

My mind’s a wren mid-hop; there’s hawks
on every handrail, tadpoles swelling in the taps.
There’s birdsong even here, if you’ve an ear for it.
VII Traffic

There’s birdsong even here. If you’ve an ear for it,
you might distinguish warbler from wren
between the song of car door, keyfob bip
and Lesser Spotted Handbrake. But then

you’re in no mood for birdwatching today.
The cars manoeuvre round you, ballet-slow
emptying and occupying bays.
The shuttle buses shuttle in, and go.

You’re here to see someone, or hear the news;
your eyes and ears are closed. The hour drags on
but it will pass like traffic; like a bruise.
Even the greyest days are flecked with song.

Best listen, if they’re singing anyway.
There behind this, waiting, is another day.
Jo Bell is an award-winning poet whose residencies have included Glastonbury Festival, the Royal Derby Hospitals and the canals of the UK, where she is currently Canal Laureate for the Poetry Society and the Canal and River Trust. Twice nominated for the Ted Hughes Award she is working on a new live poetry show for 2014, and on a new collection, provisionally titled Kith.