The Milking Parlour, Sharcott
They built the parlour in ’35, with
new machines for evacuating udders.
Whatever would they think of next?
Four farm workers stood there on that first morning,
wincing at the hospital tiles, remarking
on how the floor lent bounce to the lowing,
the inside streams of yellow piss so unseemly.
It worked for years, this machine-room
shoving the beasts through a doorway,
teat cups plugging their swinging bags, steel bars
holding them felt tremendously modern,
the natural order was every day grass and water
turning into money while the men stood around fiddling
and the juice rose warm and foamy up the sides of the reservoirs.
Sixty years, to be exact.
Sixty years until the buggers weren’t worth the dents
they hoofed into both ends of the day now
there were just two men left, and milk worth less than bottled water.
One morning in ’95 they stalled the cows in the yard and
ramped them into a cattle truck, its sorry smelling exhaust lingering after
the herd was driven away to its own mass execution.
Now steers command the grazing
in rudderless gangs, the yard is spotless for car parking
and the old milking parlour is silent,
just asbestos roofing, the concrete floor still clean from its sluicing
years ago, the space wanted only for storage, no work
just storage, and twenty first century parties,
like this one…
At three the barn bench, a ludicrous dance floor for
one so old and too drunk to keep his balance
tumbles, and slow and fumbling I fall
and pick a broken wine glass,
its broken stem specifically,
to meet my outstretched hand.
There is no sharpness,
just a blunt sense of injury
and my blood, bright running
then bracken coloured on my shirt,
the bubbling pink rise of my flesh which my wife
bathes and dries and rags and so back to dance on,
the year has just begun, there is work to do.
The White House, Manningford Bruce
Walking home the road is being flipped and shaken
so that I cannot take it and exhausted
sit down in a ditch to laugh
laughing, I rise, fall and laugh again
and turning see my friend in the same way,
Back on my feet my head is in the wrong place
too far forward, much too far
so to keep it there I must run my legs to catch up
and then another ripple through the road
finds me embarrassed, almost horizontal
and then compensating far to the right
my wounded hand waving its bloody rag
my booted feet light as feathers
and wet grass is tickling my nose.
I smell the earth and it is like laughing gas,
Ah, a stile.
Now a dark field, perfect for manouevres.
There goes Jim, out on flanking duty,
listen! He has stopped by that tree to moo.
Thus we make progress,
our wives out in front with the torch
Jim and I bringing up the rear
making sweeping gestures,
hooting and crawling in the darkness.
Here is another road, the last one,
promise the women, pray the last one.
It is half past four and we stand before the house,
thatch-headed, its lawns black, crunch gravel
so grand and nightly that we cannot find the door
until we do, exactly where it was meant to be,
and with boiled faces
we hush-hush upstairs
where six children lie
ticking bombs towards today’s breakfast.
The Great Western Hospital, Swindon
It might be anywhere on the outside –
utility steel and stone cladding
block built New Labour
raising wards of sanctuary beds above a car park.
No fuss, this university of miracles and emergency,
A very British kindness on the inside, procured globally
primary school art hung at cheery intervals,
floors mopped religiously in migrant language down
long corridors smelling of alcohol gel,
polish, hot radiator paint and gravy.
The old milking parlour had stood empty for years when
Prince Philip cut the tape on these grand revolving doors
and the photographer sent along by the Advertiser caught
atrium smiles of managers vying for moral authority,
nurses grinning out their impatience.
A car park full of automobile colour, measure of
January’s debauchery and violence.
My hand bad in my pocket I stroll past birch trees
too bare for birds, past a smoking station puffing yellow
over two winnebagos for mobile chemotherapy.
Coming out, deflated mothers shuffling to the car,
their men carrying baby, green-boned and mewing.
Once it was I who strode the maternity ward, beaming and
pulling bottles out of a case of bubbly: one for the midwife,
one for the anaesthetist in the Christmas hat, for I had my girl.
Past the fogged cafe and the entrance for emergency vehicles,
ghosts from my future coming straight at me:
defeated soldiers, broken down cow men, all sorts and their wives,
the blood slow in their poor veins, their dead ends around the corner
all they can do is grimace at the weather.
A&E’s waiting room rammed with seated wounded staring
at a stalled TV, a plastic tree with silver tinsel,
in the corner a nativity scene, above it a sign:
“Any form of violence against staff is unacceptable”.
A snowy-haired lady dozing in a chair has wet herself.
Registered I am a citizen of this reluctant country
of the injured, my restless government dashing out
bright ambulances to raid the landscape.
Hours waiting, our community degrading, the weakest disappearing
behind curtains, ushered by a beautiful nurse, her hair held up with biros.
“May I borrow your pen?” fantasies sustain me
until a young blade in plastic surgery becomes
fascinated by my lack of feeling and I achieve
value and X-rays and after hours am chitted abroad,
free to drive one-handed to the Trauma Unit at Oxford.