I leaf through its latest issue as I wait
to be weighed, for eye tests, blood tests, urine samples,
low in the league table of hospital smells.
There’s nothing lethal in my case to date
just warnings: “smoking multiplies the risks;
your retina deteriorates; your feet
have lost their reflex – that’s bad – I can treat
your illness but the odds are one in six
you’ll reach retirement while you’re still alive”.
Steve Redgrave, Gary Mabbutt are its heroes –
their stories seed beds where the text allows
that diabetics can live normal lives.
I’ve bitten through my tongue; come round at five
in piss-cold sheets; dislocated a hip;
crawled across filthy floors to split my lip
on toilet seats; been sightless when I drive.
I sit in waiting rooms and idly flick
through the small ads. of our insignia:
insulin pens, white spirit, sharps, bizarre
chocolates, the nightmare of the ribbed sock.
Your hand-bones click with each thick stroke
against the muscles of the tide.
Your empty face is turned aside
and hooded by a sackcloth cloak.
The skiff is caulked with creosote
which peels up like tiny hands.
The duck-boards where your tarsus stands
are knuckle-deep in grease. The boat
is rocking now against the quay,
grey as the dawn which is no dawn.
You stand aside to let me on.
What is it that you want with me?
No answer. Just these present threats.
Of course I want to run, but can’t.
The steps go nowhere. I feel faint.
Strangely, I’m out of cigarettes.
The lip of earth on my toe-cap
is all I’ll take to disembark
into the unforgiving dark.
Heart in my mouth, unready, I step
onto the Styx, into your sway.
I recognise your flinch from me –
that instinct at proximity.
I watch you row the world away.
Out on the slow reach nothing stirs.
The oars leave hints of whirlpools in
the sluggish tide like dimpled skin.
The water hangs from them as hairs
of long-dead bodies, discomposed.
These are the last tears I will cry.
They wash away my face and sigh
in the cold sea like something lost.
There is no coming back to shore.
Across the river children play
by chestnut trees. We edge away.
I think I should have loved you more.
From Crossing the Outskirts Anvil 2002