Column 34

Poets are often told to just write it like it is and it will be good and true. But as the great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes said, I wonder if it’s that simple? There’s a magic that needs to happen for experience to translate into meaningful art. In some ways Reuben Roy Smith has just written it like it is in this poem, but the choice of what to tell us, what to leave out, the order in which it is told and the particular words that are used that changes it from reportage to something that is deeply, profoundly moving. The poem was published in Poems for the NHS (The Onslaught Press).


Poem for Badger

You wanted to run away with me
You said for me to get your clothes
and visit the cash point
‘Why do you need money?’ I asked
‘For the taxi to escape
we have drink and food at home’.
I tried to explain that you were
tubed up and had a catheter
on your willy.
You denied this and pleaded still for me to take you home,
I called for the support staff who confirmed
you couldn’t leave your bed,
two weeks later
you were dead.

You died before the clocks
went forward
a necessary death as necessary
as my essential tremor.
I was on the phone to the evening nurse
when she asked me to hold on
and came back
rather too quickly
to tell me you had passed away.
‘Tell them I a dead’
you had said.
Several friends have said hospitals sometimes know
of deaths to happen.
You died while I was on the phone and
you didn’t die alone
we had a connection.


Used with kind permission of Reuben Roy Smith.