Ode to a Private Convenience

John Bayley

In hospital it’s earlier than you think.
All day the daylight lighting lights the day
That five times brings by trolley a hot drink,
Bovril, Nescafé, Ovaltine, or tea.
The nurses’ busy heels don’t tap but squish;
The nurses wheedle, pummel, scream, and lay
A sort of sealed-up dish
Five times or so a day the beds beside:
Uncouth but shapely, made from rhino hide

(Or so it looks). Too curious for one use
Then down the sluice?
These throwaway male vessels packed in flocks
With hypos, Distals, overflowing stocks,
Gaily and daily squandered in the ward,
Rejoin no polished hoard

And that seems hard
For stoups so right in ritual effect
With meek masonic mouths that genuflect.
The nurses’ chatter
To jolly on the blokes
Seems not to want to know about the matter.
Unintimate and effortlessly elsewhere
Their voices soar and coax
Old arias from the antiseptic air
These day stars act and talk
As if to devotees discharged, swift-bladdered, who can walk.

All’s changed at nine p.m.
The other lot take over: pots renewed again.
No parts need acting now. Intent as sleep
The tall vague shadows glide and bend and peep,
Touch and bestow and solace as by right.
Queens of the night.
Sometimes with folded arms one seems to listen,
Head bent in cap and breast-pinned watch agleam,
Sibylline to some murmuring meaning stream
Begin and pause and then again begin,
Inaudible by day, the sound of pissing,
Calming distracted silence in the gloom
Across the unstirless room
In notes that mark the watchful offices,
As on a summer night surprised by showers
A ceremonious mutter in small hours
Running on quiet roofs, abluted places.