He arrived, in a blue January twilight
At this great space: this measureless pavilion, epic
And austere. Within it (lost), the murmurings of
Still-beating hearts: microcosms, these, as if a thousand
Dew-drops where, in a day, seasons of life and death were
Played out – intimate, ephemeral, unacknowledged.

At the big door he baulked; merely a novice, in this
Cathedral for the dying. One of the Sisters glanced:
He blanched, and lowered his gaze.
In upper wards the satellite channels prattled,
Television by the dead, for the dead. But not down here.
Here there was silence without dignity, at a time
When dignity was all there was to cling to.
Here was a mollusc of metal and puny plastic filaments,
A reticulated organism, perhaps; at whose numerous
Intersections little gobbets of flesh might move and stir,
Punctuated from time to time by sacs of brownish fluid.

In the corner, with a head
Like a busted bag, the elegant lady
He knew, twenty years since, from an evening
Watercolour class. Somebody senile fell back from
Ranting at an extinct cousin. But first, dear Reader, to bedside
Watch. There’s no response, as (quiet as a choirboy)
He folds his coat, and perches on it. At length
He says, “Would you like to hear some nice news
About me?” Pause, and the rattle of distant tea trolleys.
Finally she says, “We’ve been waiting thirty-nine years.”

At this moment it is evident that,
Contrary to all prior intimations, Elvis has not
Left the building. As for the seated one, his back
Makes a low arc and, as if to himself, he murmurs,
“Now I know you’re going to be all right.”

Stephen Jackson March 2005


Stephen Jackson

London, United Kingdom

  • Artist

Artist's Description

An event I observed whilst visiting Harrogate Hospital to see my dying mother. The depiction of a wretched geriatric ward is for real in every detail. But sometimes one throwaway line says more than an encyclopaedia of minute observations.

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