‘Phil Says’ by John Freeman

I don’t know if you know, Phil says, they’re mixed,

the wards, and if you’re over sixty you’re in

with the geriatrics. It’s not attractive.

They find you a bed wherever they can.

The widow who lives in the cul-de-sac

in the village under the power lines

he says, was in the maternity unit.

Phil made friends with a man on the same ward

and went to talk to him at two a.m. –

everyone was awake so why not, he thought –

and he seemed fine. Later a nurse appeared,

and looked at him and shouted, help, says Phil,

and then the runners (as I call them) came,

two who looked incapable of lifting

anyone, then two who seemed more up to it,

and they put screens round his bed, and then, Phil says,

screens around my bed, and in the morning

they said, oh, didn’t you know? He passed away

during the night. In a ward with six beds,

in the five days Phil was there, three patients died.

You have to tell your visitors not to be

too raucous, you know, because if relatives

were making their last visit to someone

they wouldn’t want that going on round them.

When the staff decided Phil should go home

he said Julia would have to bring his clothes,

but they wouldn’t wait, and he felt foolish,

walking corridors in bright pyjamas,

frayed slippers, and a homely dressing gown.

Phil’s voice down the line sounds faint to start with

but gets more like himself as he talks on.

One time he had had a coughing spasm

and had passed out, and the doctors wanted tests,

convinced he had had a fit, and he thought,

oh no, another year without driving,

but as he’d thought, he hadn’t, the scans were clear.

There’s a great deal more Phil tells me. It is all

interesting, and some of it is funny.

Quite a lot of it is bloody frightening.


Lonely 2 bJohn Freeman’s White Wings: New and Selected Prose Poems appeared from Contraband Books in 2013. Previous collections include A Suite for Summer (Worple Press), and The Light Is Of Love, I Think: New and Selected Poems (Stride Editions). Stride also published a collection of essays, The Less Received: Neglected Modern Poets. He taught for many years at Cardiff University and lives in the Vale of Glamorgan.


All photography © Jo Mazelis, 2016.