‘A firm light quick step’
– after lunch, amongst casualties –
‘and a steady quick hand:
these are the desiderata.’

Night-light under the alders.
In the dark grass by the river
we lie low licking our wounds,
watching the English nurse

move briskly about the ward
– the dormobiles, the caravans,
and the soft clockwork
of (mostly French) conversation.

Back at her tent she chooses
not romance or a thriller
but ‘Notes’, by Florence Nightingale:
‘What Nursing is and what it is not.’

Perhaps we come in her book?
– the German father’s hip,
our Netherlander neighbours’
high-grade mongol daughter,

and man after man
– our sunbeds stretched in the shade,
our women visiting –
glancing up at the quick

step through the hospital,
past our temperature-charts,
our eyes murmuring illnesses
– what we have, what we have not –

our lips discovering
one shared word for what’s lovely,
what’s needed: O

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