What Can I Say?

by Peter Wallis

The phones are on the basement landing near the lifts
and wearing hoods like hairdryers. They feed on cash

but are essential. They sleep on hooks like babies put to rest
face down. They all trail cords twisted as messages.

Among evidence of crisps and gum, the phones are dreaming
grubby dreams graffitied on the dimpled walls.

They hang their heads as if they’re culpable. Some phones are dead,
some have bad breath or smell of piss. This is a hospital.

*  *

The phones are in the shopping-centre/atrium cum café
and wearing cowls like hunched monks praying.

They feed on cash but are essential. Receivers hang
like silent foetuses and all trail cords, twisted, for messages.

Among scratched numbers, cards for taxis, and torn wrappers,
phones are dreaming grubby dreams. Beds glide by like barges

with soft cargoes. Some phones are dead,
some have bad breath or smell of piss. This is a hospital.

*  *  *

The phones are on the basement landing near the lifts
hooded, like anybody cares what anybody says.

Through dirty teeth they feed on cash. Receivers hang like unripe fruit,
and trail from vines like treble clefs. My call’s essential.

Of the phones, half are working. Some gag on coins like foie gras geese.
People wearing coats, or dressing-gowns and bandages, are waiting.

Biro, grubby finger-marks and scuffs, patinate the stippled walls.
There’s fluff like tumbleweed. This is a hospital.

*  *  *  *

The phones are in the shopping-centre/atrium cum café
and wearing hoods like ram-raiders. They feed on cash.

Pale handsets trail from vines like ripening peaches.
Silent drips, pumps, shunts and beds glide-by like wherries.

Among evidence of crisps and gum, the vulnerable are wearing
pyjamas and/or coats or dressing-gowns in their delirium.

Incapable, clients hang their heads like hopeless phones.
Some have bad breath or smell of piss. This is a hospital.

*  *  *  *  *

Change is essential. The hoods of phones are lined
along the walls of ill-lit corridors, like inversions of urinals.

Handsets turn their backs and hunch, dangling like limp kittens.
Beds glide-by like gondolas or rafts, while walking wounded

cling to masts with drips for pennants. Above floor tiles puddled colourless
with overuse and slippers, the phones slump senseless.

Incapable, they hang their heads like apologetic doctors.
Some are dead. What can I say? This is a hospital.