poetry

 

the time it takes to boil an egg

 

the last taste 

in your mouth would 

have been that of terror 

as strangers in white coats and non-slip shoes
punched you hard in the fucking 

chest while i wandered the house of fraser 

smearing creamy tracks of hot plum and shocking 

coral on the thin underside of my forearm 

at the counter with the french sounding 

name and when my phone rang i heard the words 

alright––as though florence nightingale herself 

had said them and i raced like some kind 

of lipstick coated crazy fuckwit from the house 

of fraser to the car i cannot find in the car park

i am sure i have parked in and i queue 

the excruciating twelve seconds 

for the man in front to pay i smash my credit 

card in the slot insert my ticket at the boom 

am urged by electronic ticker tape to please drive 

carefully and have a nice day please––fucking––spare 

me the clichés as i race down the antiseptic hall 

past the hand sanitiser cover your mouth when coughing 

and have you had your flu shot this year i hurtle 

towards the nurses’ station with its limp carnations 

and male nurse kevin plastic aproned stewing tea 

and arranging supermarket custard creams 

for the three o’clock highlight okay 

so you called him a poof that time but still 

he took your vitals checked your stools updated 

your charts and points now on my arrival

to the side room where you have lain since 

they got you breathing again so we could be with you 

when you died for the second time today

once you were gone male nurse kevin 

shat out insincerities from the section 

of the manual ‘suggested phrases on the passing of loved ones’ 

each one thin and worn as the elbows 

of an oxfam sweater and i don’t doubt it must be hard 

to know what to say kevin but no it wasn’t

as if he held off dying till i got there 

as if my father could perfectly estimate 

the time it would take for me to get from 

the house of fraser to find the car in the car park 

i am sure i have parked in as if my father was somehow 

able to factor in that i would join the motorway 

in the wrong direction and go speeding north 

when i should have gone speeding south 

as if he could have timed so precisely 

the traffic jam on the kingston bridge let alone

the parking nightmare that is wishaw hospital 

at three o’clock on a tuesday when all the out-patients 

are in you’ll trust me won’t you kevin 

when i tell you i am not interested in your clichés  

nor your supermarket custard creams fanned 

out to look fancy on the plate my father 

died kevin forty seven minutes after i arrived 

and for every beat in the metronome of his slowing 

song i counted his breaths in and fucking 

out watched his adam’s apple rise and fall 

held his hand swallowed salt silently 

screamed as entire cows and roofs and hairy 

dogs called toto blustered through the eye 

of my internal shit-storm if kevin, my father 

truly was waiting till i got there then surely 

he would have died say sixty or ninety 

seconds after my arrival or in the time 

it takes to boil an egg say four 

minutes tops––two if you want 

to dip soldiers in it?

 

 

 

 

my dog has arthritis

 

my dog has arthritis he is the size of a small horse 

it is a lot of weight for him to carry 

i give him the best care i can expensive 

visits to the vet injections here fleecy 

winter coats there buy him fish oils when they are on special 

at coles’

someone not a friend just someone told me the best quality 

fish oils are from the heath food store that they keep them

in a locked cupboard and the bottles do not display 

the price and this makes me feel very uncomfortable

the last fish oils i bought from coles were seven dollars 

for four hundred capsules i give my dog eighteen 

each day that is six at breakfast six at lunch 

and six at dinner i met a woman on the beach 

she was an ICU nurse once at the glasgow royal infirmary 

where my sort-of-sister-in-law lies right now she is forty 

has had a massive heart attack 

is in an induced hypothermic coma and the pain of this knowing 

kills me a little more with every day the nurse notices 

my dog’s limp i tell her he has arthritis 

that i give him fish oil i tell her about the four hundred

capsules for seven dollars and she agrees it is a good price 

then i hear myself tell her i give him nine 

at breakfast nine at lunch and nine at dinner 

as if real life events are not already 

bad enough like that time the stag leapt 

from the cliff and landed on the beach dead only 

it wasn’t a stag it was a fawn and the ICU nurse 

and i talked of that stag each time we met told passersby 

of its size measured out the crater its dead body 

had left in the sand she said her dog fed at its throat 

i said my dog devoured its brains and rolled in the smell 

of it long after it had been removed by the council 

with a tractor.

 
 
 

this is a prayer for the soul of my boy

 

it happened on a thursday

he was big, brown, a dog, 

sixty five kilos nearly 

ten years old frisky on occasion 

but mostly he was placid 

we went everywhere together

hung out in cafes his velvet brown eyes 

lined thick with black kohl perfect 

for extricating left over sausages and buttered 

crusts from the unlikeliest of donors

and there were some who’d say but he looks so sad!

and i’d say––do not be fooled! it is merely 

his eyeliner––and an insatiable appetite for sausages

and i’m not saying he never felt sad, his brother 

died two weeks before he did, i often wonder if he knew

he loved things like pizza and bacon

he was gentle with manners––it was like angels 

lived in him he slept on his trampoline 

raised up from the floor to ward off arthritis 

it did nothing for tumours i left him once to go to scotland 

returned three weeks later woke groggy from jet lag 

he was sitting by my bed leaning in––his head pushed 

hard up against my pillow staring unflinchingly 

with the same dedication he might say, a slice of pepperoni 

and mozzarella. after he died a woman on the beach 

gave me a photograph she’d taken of him and me together 

we are sitting on the sand side by side staring 

out beyond the breakers we look like we are inseparable 

every day of the too few years we had him devotion 

coursed from him i was his master the keeper of sausages 

the caller of walkies the turner of blind eyes 

when he’d jump up and steal expensive chunks of camembert 

and sticky date puddings from christmas 

tables we always knew we’d only ever have him till he reached 

around ten these giant boys do not last near long enough––

something about their bones their joints malignant 

tumours if we were lucky he’d have the slow growing 

kind it was two in the morning

the vet’s surgery was next door to the train station 

as though planned that way so that when it was over 

freight trains might come in the night 

for the cargos of pain from hearts so broken 

they might never recover

we stepped out of the surgery into the inconceivable 

night the grief train in our name rumbled 

in and halted with the same certainty 

as death and we piled its wagons 

high with great shovels of our grief 

then we stood back––exhausted 

sweat on our brows warm shovels in our hands we were emptied

and this was only the start of it.

 

copyright ali whitelock