My diurnal rhythm has been destroyed by the dexamethasone and for the second night running I am typing at 3 am when I should be sleeping.
I contacted an old school friend yesterday on Friends Reunited. Dom Darling was a brilliant scholar who read Physics or Maths at Imperial College, London. I had heard that he had dropped out because he was making too much money playing Poker, but that may be just gossip since he eventually had a successful career at IBM. Apparently, his retirement has been filled with Golf and Bridge; not how I expected him to end up when he defied the headmaster by buying an ice cream from Mr Whippy’s van over the wall of the school. For that he received several detentions, so I tend to believe the Poker story.
Another thing I associate with him, though, again, my memory may be playing me false, is the statement that poetry is appreciated by young girls and old men, but it is written by great men in their spare time. With this in mind I have been looking at my Juvenilia. I wrote about 80 poems between the ages of 16 and 23, some of which showed promise, but most of which were self-indulgent. I wondered whether they might contain a hint of talent that might be refined by experience.
This poem arose from an actual incident on the gynaecological ward round. A young girl had an ovarian cyst removed. Unfortunately, it turned out to be highly malignant. Those were the days of very little chemotherapy, though I expect that she had entirely inappropriate radiotherapy at the time. This happened as I was tail-end Charlie on a ward round. I called her Lynette, though that wasn’t her name – I was probably into Country and Western at the time.
She smiled at me,
Her fair and swinging
Straight hair hanging,
And wrinkled up her nose
Like a white soft rabbit
Culled from Alice.
She talked, an earnest seventeen,
Of God and Beethoven,
And pointed to her scar
And how it wouldn’t show
On next year’s beaches.
While I, who knew the worst,
Forgot my pretty speeches
Lest the bubble burst
And gaily smiled at her instead;
My laughter smothering the dread.
Actually the last two lines are a later revision, but even they were an improvement on the original.
Recently, I have begun to feel that pentameter is a better meter for me. I once enjoyed the concision of three- and four-feet lines, but I have become impatient with the contortion that this demands.
So here goes on the revision I have made for now. Please comment on the poem, its theme or its process.
She smiles at me, her fair and swinging straight
hair hanging. Rabbit-wrinkling up her nose,
she indicates that I, the trailing leg, should wait
while each attending white coat speaks and goes.
She talks, an earnest seventeen, of Grieg
and God and points to her bikini scar,
enlisting me, who knows the unsaid worst,
but briefly in her fabulous intrigue
to speak of next year’s beaches and there are
hiatuses in case the bubble burst.
Now forty years and more have gone, dispersed
Lynette, herself, to ashes or to dust.
My own white coat of armor has been shed,
I stand bareheaded as I was at first
and ask did I betray or underpin her trust
and that of others dead or long-time dead?
I ask for honesty from my white coats;
of fables, dreams and hopes I have enough;
don’t buoy me up with delicate misquotes,
I’ve learned to take the softness with the rough.