from the essay Flying Over London by Virginia Woolf
Lieutenant Hopgood made the engine roar.
At once the earth dropped away
and the sky fell down, immersing us.
Our entrails trespassed in thin air.
Hopgood dived. The City looked as empty
as Marie Celeste;
but with binoculars I made out people’s
social grades by the hats they wore.
Hopgood’s ugly face was charming. I would fly
anywhere with him – even to
the poorer quarters where the ragged people
go on scrubbing doorsteps.
Hopgood has bad news:
his engine’s roar revealed a fault;
his aeroplane won’t fly today.
I have been dreaming.
Royal London Hospital, 2012
My radiologist is Amy Johnson
with a lead-lined, leopard-printed smock and glasses
pushed up from her eyes against a headscarf
like the goggles in that leather-helmet portrait
with the upturned sexy gaze. It’s strange
her face was never twice the same in snapshots.
She holds a needle near my arm. The x-rayed maze
of arteries and bones and sinew could be rivers,
ridges, scrub and swamp in maps she balanced
on her knee while matching, from a thousand feet,
the features of each continent she crossed to reach
the crowds who waited – as I’m waiting – for her touch-down.
To slide a Hickman line inside my vein
she threads a swirling fog of ultrasound.
When cloud closed in, they say she radioed
I think I’ll crack on through; control agreed –
perhaps considering the woman would
be better off in someone’s kitchen, cracking eggs.
Lost in mist like vapour trapped against the ceiling
from a kettle she’d forgotten, Amy jumped
and floated till she hit the water’s chill and swell
picked up the rescue vessel’s looming stern
then dropped it. Bang: the swing doors slam into my trolley
as I’m wheeled away – and Amy’s gone.
At the Old Operating Theatre Museum, St Thomas’s Hospital
Being shot on film
used to spin them round
like Tom or Jerry or the chamber
on the Colt the hero played with,
cleanly dead before they hit the dirt.
Now screen victims spray like tomcats
demonstrating murder makes a mess.
In fact, you’d be amazed
what damage human tissue
does to bullets. Bones deflect
a missile deeper into muscle
nearly at the speed of sound; but nerves
react like lightning: screams wound up
by entry wounds can snap before an exit.
A hospital museum
exhibits leaden messes
picked from limbs by Crimea surgeons,
then driven into surplus corpses
for extra practice at extracting shrapnel.
The art of treating gunshot wounds
has much advanced this century in Europe.
The operating table
holds targets up to marksmen
licensed to eliminate
all threats that won’t go quietly:
a scrabble in this metaphoric barrel
might scrape some parable endorsing
a taste for pulling triggers now and then.
The wall beside the stairs was curved and green.
Back windows let in mottled smells from kitchens
far below the sky. A pair of sisters
from Ashby-de-la-Zouch left English papers
at my door. The quietest hour was always
shortly after dawn when lack of chatter
from the bar below awoke my need
to empty last night’s wine – but not en suite
and, coming back, I missed my way. It was
as if another creature – not a servant
or a dog – pushed past me through a lightweight
glazed and varnished door onto a landing.
In a mirror by the early light
I saw a life-size portrait of Madame,
the founder’s wife, bare-armed, Edwardian
black dress low-cut, white throat caressed by pearls.
I took her image back to bed and wrestled
sleep till morning. Then the landing door
had gone; the mirror’s glass was cracked and time
had nibbled at its silvering. The picture
of Madame was missing but the same
sweet perfect-oval face acknowledged me
behind the desk where brochures lay in rows
like answers waiting for unspoken questions.