The Hospital Tree

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This was the last poem to be written. The first – On First Visiting Maggie’s West – was written in early spring, this last poem was written in December. One of the threads running through the poem references Dante’s Divine Comedy: people appear as ‘in limbo’ and Reception, an island positioned between the revolving door and the world of the hospital proper, like the island mountain of the Purgatorio. Reception is not the only ‘triage post’ that visitors encounter. People living with cancer will come to at least one more reception and then wait for blood to be taken, wait to see a doctor or nurse, and wait again for treatment or a prescription. Patients said it often took most of the day, and some therefore made an initial visit for their bloods and a second visit for any treatment. The hospital clock seems to echo this sense of uncertain time – it could be telling the correct time (but isn’t); it’s clearly not telling the correct time; it is telling the correct time but only momentarily. When Di visited there was a temporary exhibition on the ground floor which featured mythologised forests. It seemed to echo the Divine Comedy, the Poet famously being lost in a ‘dark wood’ and staff and patients observing forests of bureaucracy that caused endless waiting and uncertainty. Di was the only one looking: Imperial Health Charity curates an excellent art collection, accredited by the Arts Council.

Another thread alludes to the mutualism between trees and mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi join the roots of individual trees to the roots of others, facilitating a subterranean network of information and despatch. Similarly the porters and other key workers who bring food, drink, oxygen, medicines etc. and without whom the system can’t function, connect up the different floors and departments. Unlike the clinicians we see they are often invisible.  On a mundane level the visible/invisible appears in the painted arrow pointing towards A&E which is easily overlooked. Amongst the hawks wheeling above it, peregrines are visible at times.

The Christmas Tree
caged for Health and Safety
casts a spectral blue
over the souls that huddle and smoke
under the Hospital clock
that’s always out of time –
low watt Christmas cheer
in the face of austerity,
though none of the faces here
show the meekness of Tiny Tim.

The dim beacon
stands before a bridge
barely perceptible
which staff, patients, relatives,
cross as those in limbo
heading for crisis
or opportunity,

Under their feet
koi fish
barely perceptible
turn a slow pavan
to Fortune’s pipe
amidst occasional litter.

Ambulances back out of the bay
like horses from a livery yard,
the lower level of the building extending
like the wings of a grounded plane,
the inconsequent clock
driven perhaps by a higher power
that likes a joke
as once in a while
time lost or time gained
turns out to be
time present.

The multi-storey tower
jigsaws the sky,
untrodden balconies
grey on grey
bracket themselves against the cloud
that bulks and drips and bulks again –
a roof for gyring hawks
that screech their own alarms
above the arrow of A and E.

Once through the revolving door
light is electric,
unsparing of shadow
or moody contemplation.

No country for the aimless,
Reception’s purgatorial post
propels the lost to purpose –
a rapid-fire of wheels and feet
past the artwork
there’s no time to look at
and the consolation of Costa
to the infernal lifts
that never wait on the ground floor.

Forced to a standstill though you are,
the place is alive as the forest floor.
The comings and goings
of those who serve the nation’s health
behind trolleys, clipboards, hospital beds,
in uniform or out
a constant traffic unremarked.

Like the roots we do not see
they hold the thriving crown,
agents of exchange
they are the ground-force
of our air.