Monday Poem: “Twelve Views of Matron’s Bosoms” by Emily McHalick
The Monday Poem
I’ve got something a bit different for you this week. I came across it last week while I was reading through a collection of short stories and poems produced by students on one of New Zealand’s best Creative Writing courses. It’s a prose poem, which means it doesn’t rhyme and it doesn’t read much like a poem at all. It’s also pretty long, but I was captivated by the title and by the story it tells, so I wanted to share anyway.
Twelve Views of Matron’s Bosoms by Emily McHalick
“Iv ya take moi fannel, Iwl kiwl ya. Iwl kiwl ya.”
“You’re not going to kill anybody, Daniel, go and watch some TV. I’m taking your flannel because it has got to be washed because it’s Tuesday and all flannels get washed on Tuesday.”
“Eyem mad. Eyem mad. Eyem gonna kiwl.” Daniel slams the dishwasher rack on the stainless-steeel bench. “Eyem gonna kiwl.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Wright? Your child is not normal.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that by the age of five he may be able to unwrap a sweet.”
“What do you mean?”
“The best we can hope for is that he’ll ride a bike at ten years old, but don’t get your hopes up. Now which institution will you put him in? Here’s the range.”
“Was it that brutal?”
“Did the doctor really say that?”
“No. I can’t even remember what the words were. It was being avoided that was brutal, it took days before the doctor spoke to us, and you could tell something was wrong simply because you were told nothing at all.”
It was Daniel’s thirtieth birthday on Friday, now it is Monday, the cleaning lady says,
“If he wants to keep his cards out he can stick them on the wall. He knows I’ve got to dust on the top of his dressing table and it’s no good putting his cards there because I’ve got forty rooms to do and I haven’t got time to go taking them off and putting them back up again. They’re in his drawer and as far as I’m concerned that’s where they’re staying.”
Daniel is having his toenails cut in the duty office. This is the first time I meet him. He is pretending to be posing for cameras and I almost see the flashes going off, he wears a pair of broken sunglasses and the duty orderly grips his foot harder. She bends over his feet, completely absorbed in the task, and uses her entire strength to cut through their thickness. Consequently toenail clippings fly across the room ricocheting off cupboards and walls. One hits me just under the eye.
Naked, Daniel has the body of a child. His stomach sticks out and his navel sticks out even further. He also has two purple scars slashed across his back and rough calluses on his hands and feet.
“How did he get the scars?”
“He as about six or seven and he was being teased.”
“Go and shave.”
“Eyem not uh chield.”
“Go and shave.”
“I’ve told you, go and shave.”
The afternoon orderly says,
“You can’t understand a word he says. Of course you’ve got to treat them like children because they bloody well are children, some of them. I’ve been working in places like this for twenty years and I know that if you treat them like children you’ve got a far better chance of being understood.”
We sit together on Daniel’s bed. On his record player he plays the Rubinoos’ version of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now,”
“…dah dah dah uh ha I th-think we’re alone now uh th-there doesn’t seem ta be uh anyone na a-around hound hound hound hound dah dah dah uh…”
We sit on his blue bedspread under his yellow floral curtains, moving our thighs in time to the music.
The duty nurse cannot hear what Daniel is saying. That is not quite true, once when she was peering up into his face, saying,
“…what?…I didn’t catch that…Sorry?…pardon?
…what?…I didn’t catch that…Sorry?…pardon?”
He bent down to her level, looked her straight in the eye and said,
“You’re fucking deaf.”
It was the clearest sentence I ever heard him say.
The duty nurse cried and resigned.
The matron instructs Daniel that he is not to hug people, especially if they are people he does not know, and if he continues to do so he will not be allowed out ever again.
Daniel is not allowed breakfast because he slept in.
Daniel is not allowed afternoon tea because he came back late from his walk.
Daniel is not allowed to watch the end of his movie because the chef wants to watch the rugby.
Daniel is not allowed dessert because he swore at the chef.
Daniel smiles at me because I pretend not to notice him buying low-alcohol beer at the dairy. He leans up against the post outside, clicks his tongue and nods his head at people going by, and waves at the fire engine.
Daniel has been sent up north to another home. Why? Because late at night when the units were locked up he climbed out his bedroom window, walked to the end of the path where he could see in matron’s bedroom window. It was not perverted or creepy, it was just to see her wonderful bosoms.
— from Mutes and Earthquakes by Bill Manhire, pp.246-249