The Shelter

I should never have stayed
in this cold shieling
once the storm passed
and the rain had finally eased.

I could make out shapes
in here, the occasional sound:
a muffled crying
which I took for wind in the trees;
a wasp,
stuttering there at the windowsill.
I listened. What looked like
a small red coat

was dripping from its wire hanger.

There was a shift and rustle
coming from the bucket in the corner
by the door; I found, inside,
a crumpled fist
of balled-up paper, slowly

On the hearth, just legible
in the warm ash, my name and dates,
and above that, in a shard
of mirror left in the frame,
I caught sight of myself, wearing
something like a black brooch at the neck.
Then I looked more closely
and saw what it was.

A & E

It was like wetting the bed
waking up that night, soaked through:
my sutures open again
and the chest wound haemorrhaging.
Pulling on jeans and an overcoat
I called a car to Camberwell, and
shivering in by the rubber doors
presented myself
at that Saturday-night abattoir
of Casualty at King’s on Denmark Hill.

Amid this carnage, behind her desk
and barred window, the triage nurse
was already waving me away –
till I parted the tweed to show her
what was going on underneath.
Unfashionable, but striking nonetheless:
my chest undone like some rare waistcoat,
with that lace-up front – a black échelle
its red, wet-look leatherette,
those fancy, flapping lapels.

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