through lack of care
like an old grate
raked from the fire,
its two wings collar
the trapped air
and fuse at their lower tips
as if in prayer.
two abrupt vertebrae form
a faceless head, a crown
of sorts: at its back, a rack
of black nibs trail
to a pointy tail.
Devil wings. Death wings.
Clattering through the rafters.
I lived in the heart
of the house; the house was built
around me. Yet you closed the shutters
and left me to the darkness
hammering the blades of my wings
against anything that shimmered.
For want of such simple ministrations
– sunlight and a bowl of milk –
I brought the whole house down
falling in on itself
like a twisted bolt of silk.
About this poem
To celebrate the Quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, twenty-one Scottish poets were commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library to write poems inspired by the College’s collections and work. Like surgeons they have used ‘the hand that sees’, but in this case the writing hand that acts at the prompting of insight and imagination. The poems and their comments, alongside photographs of items that inspired them, were published in The Hand that Sees: Poems for the quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, edited by Stewart Conn, and published by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in association with the Scottish Poetry Library in 2005.
I was attracted firstly by the sculptural force of this object. It possesses a brute power, a monumentality, irrespective of its size. There is no dissembling beauty here — a spine does not rise above it, twisting like a swan's graceful neck (scoliosis), nor is there any of the delicacy of plant forms, of leaf-mould, of the undersea world, suggested by any number of the degenerative diseases on display here. No, there is no disguising the hard fact of this malformed pelvis, the malign message it bears.
In the first part of the poem, I have tried to capture something of the physicality of the object itself. I have used assonance and half-rhyme to bind the poem together, to make its surface interesting and resistant, but without the finish of a more formal approach.
In the second part of the poem, I am concerned with the pelvis as the core of our bone structure and with what happens when it is weakened. The unifying image here is of a trapped bird. I make reference to the causes of osteomalacia - namely deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D. The present exhibit is discoloured through one-time neglect, hut it displays a condition that is not yet confined only to museums. Osteomalacia is a disease of poverty, of lack of sunlight. The ‘voice’ of this object, in other words, is still too frequently heard in less privileged parts of the world.