The waiting room ceiling was hung with twisted
paper chains and frowning angels on gold twine.
I took the requisite number of tablets
and turned towards the beige-faced nurse
with the hush-puppy hands and hunky-dory feet:
Please may I leave now, I asked with my eyes.
She motioned me to a lime nylon cushion
on a deeply stained armchair. Her velvet
lips purred like a pony’s and she pawed my
shoulders not unkindly. Then heaved a hard
black valise onto a pile of Homes and Gardens
and sorted swiftly through a range of tinkling
silver spikes, curettes and scissors, coming
to something like a melon-baller
which she sterilised and held to the
twinkling fairy reds to check for fluff.
My old grey spirit, under the influence
of medication, folded its limbs beneath
itself, trembling. She piped some steaming
primrose liquid which smelled of cloves and
apples into a silver bowl and dunked a white
napkin right down to the bottom, wringing it,
till it was a hard baton which she used
to prod my belly where the wounds were.
Sensation vanished to the extremities and
the soft white floss of her beard tickled
my neck where she leant, as she worked
away. ‘It’s Christmas,’ she said, drawing out
a green streamer of pus, festive
as muck, from my omphalos. ‘Christmas—
and you so much of the world.’ A star
in her eye flickered and the clock ticked.
No other patients had stayed. ‘We’ll have
devils on horseback,’ she said, ‘before we
have our crackers. Hold tight.’
Geraldine Clarkson’s poems have appeared in journals, including Poetry, The Poetry Review, and anthologies including This Line is Not For Turning: An Anthology of British Prose Poetry (Cinnamon, 2011), Best British Poetry (Salt, 2014), and The Valley Press Anthology of British Prose Poetry (2019). Her first poetry pamphlet, Declare (Shearsman, 2016), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, and her second, Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop, 2016), was a Laureate’s Choice. Her latest publication is No. 25 (Shearsman Books, 2018), and a prose poetry pamphlet, audiobook, and full-length collection are forthcoming.
Carol Ann Duffy says: I love the colours in Geraldine Clarkson’s ‘Out-of-hours’, about someone undergoing an unpleasant medical procedure. I liked the way she contrasts the neutral colours – ‘my old grey spirit’, ‘the beige-faced nurse with the hush-puppy hands’ – with the brash colours of Christmas – ‘twinkling fairy reds’, ‘gold twine’ – and the no-nonsense way they are combined with the glittering tools and colours of the procedure itself.