By Kate Meyer
Anthem for the Contaminated
Just test and trace for those who drop like flies;
Only the rapid ping of news by text:
Only results that logic fast denies
That beg the question ‘Is it my turn next?’:
No herd immunity for them, no actual proof
That tests or vaccines mean they won’t succumb;
Statistics are no shield from ugly truth
That beast-like, penned and passive, they are dumb:
A news report on farming made me wonder
If we were cattle, how would it be then?
Perhaps piled on pyres or landfill, ten feet under;
But different rules apply, when waged by men.
For us, results can mean self isolation
Or lockdown; life is blurred, emotions dulled;
By contrast, beasts affected by contagion
Had no human status and were culled:
And yet like them we’re penned for vaccination;
We’re herded, listed, tested, tracked and traced:
Fed viral stats that breed false information,
Ignoring truths that cannot be erased:
We’re simply beasts that thought they ruled the farm;
Believing masks were sure defence from harm.
‘It’s not like your job is difficult really, is it?’
A patient told me yesterday (after he had
Launched himself, Krav-Magna style at
The office door and ricocheted off it. The
Bill for last week’s drop kick was £500;
A soap dispenser and his finger were also
Casualties on this occasion. Time for another
Incident report, Steri-strips and antiseptic).
All this while the ward Is on Covid lockdown
And remaining staff sweat and fumble
In the stifling atmosphere of repressed fury,
Frustration, boredom and seething call bells;
Business as usual, only in full PPE, with
Underlying worries about colleagues tested
Positive (no wonder we are short-staffed),
Rumours rustle like crisp packets in the
Bin that is disinfected every two hours;
(How did it get on the ward?) Yes; we
Adhere to the cleaning policy. I was
Armed with a tub of disinfectant wipes
When the incident occurred. Who can
Blame him for escalating? (Kicking Off
And up are more apt terms, but not
Clinically appropriate). He didn’t get the
Answer he wanted; to be let out
Free to be himself; ‘This hospital
Gets to me! I want to go and live with
My brother. He’s got his own place.
He’s clean now! So what’s the problem?
You’re meant to be professionals!
Don’t bother calling the Social Worker!
They never pick up!’ He’s sprawled
On the sofa at this point. I’m alongside
With my observation clipboard under
My arm, trying to be present, human
Behind my mask, clammy in gloves
And shielded by a plastic apron. A
Nurse walks past and he eyes them
Up and down; ‘Some people wear this
Stuff to look important. I know you don’t.
You wear it because you’ve got to;
Get real, love. That PPE’s not gonna
Protect you from anything is it?
It’s some cheap knock-off shit.
At my last place it was proper; they had
Guys in with hasmat suits and goggles.
That was when I trashed the seclusion
Unit’. He pauses to reminisce while a
Draught from the window flutters my
Frail apron. I can’t disagree and we both
Know it. I raise my eyebrows and listen
(It’s all I can do. We both know that, too).
‘I mean you’re always short staffed here
And there’s fucking cameras everywhere:
It’s not a proper hospital. My so-called Care
Coordinator is never around and she hasn’t
Got a clue. Prison was way better than this.
I could do whatever I wanted. I mean, they
Were short staffed too but they turned a
Blind eye. Here it’s all fucking rules and
No-one gives you a straight answer. It’s
All a numbers game. You don’t even need
Qualifications to do this job!’ I rejoinder
‘You don’t fancy it then?’ A calculated
Risk but he leans back and guffaws
‘I hadn’t thought of that. Fair play. And
I guess it’s challenging, when I think
About it. Dealing with all this stuff. It
Can’t be fun having to restrain people
Who are sick in the head or psychotic.
They can’t help it, can they? And the
Pay’s crap but the rest of it’s a piece
Of piss.’ There is no challenge to
Answer and no self-defence in these
Unguarded moments. I admire his
Jet-propelled rage; I share it behind
My flimsy armour. I see the prison
World and frontline streets with his
Eyes, in all its bluster, swag and chaos.
He defines his own so-called insanity;
‘I don’t need those meds, they fuck
With my reality.’ Other chemicals
Will fuel this urgency and he will be
His own smoking gun, besides
Doctor, armed-response team,
Judge and jury. And the unspoken
Truth is we are both right. And know it.
Kate Meyer-Currey was born in 1969 and moved to Devon in 1973. A varied career in frontline settings has fuelled her interest in gritty urbanism, contrasted with a rural upbringing. Her ADHD also instils a sense of ‘other’ in her life and writing, whether folklore feminism or urban myth.
Her chapbook County Lines (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming 2021) juxtaposes these realities. Other poems include Family Landscape: Colchester 1957 (Not Very Quiet, September 2020), Invocation (Whimsical Poet, forthcoming), Cailleach (SageWoman, forthcoming) Dregs (Seinundwerden, forthcoming), Gloves(MacroMicroCosm, forthcoming) Stream: Timberscombe (forthcoming).