Naming of parts 2020

Poem by Brian Parkin. Illustration by Mark Winter.

Note by the author

I think poetry is one of the most powerful mediums for the conveying of the feelings of love, anger and sorrow. Very recently I heard a most heart-breaking plea by an ICU nurse for the government to send urgently needed PPE supplies to hospital teams going under in the fight to contain the Covid-19 Coronavirus. She was in tears and her words were punctuated by sobs from sheer exhaustion as well as the horror of seeing so many of her NHS comrades falling prey to the virus for the want of protective equipment.

Then in my anger, I reflected on similar situations where the rank and file combatants are so often betrayed by the indifference and incompetence of their dim-witted and callous leadership. The First World War ironic comment of ‘lions led by donkeys’ came to mind. So too did a sardonic poem of 23 years later: a Second World War poem by Henry Reed, then a conscripted private, despairing of the stupidity of the officers and the farcical situation of training and drilling without even the most basic equipment with which to defend themselves.

It is called ‘Naming of Parts’, and I hope you will appreciate my unforgivable liberty of adapting Reed’s great poem and rendering it in a much inferior effort. I hope it still echoes down the years with justifiable anger- but one with its momentary diversions into a spring morning- that remind us of the beauty of nature that surrounds us in our all too often repeated follies.

Naming of parts 

Today we have naming of parts
Yesterday, we had only deep cleaning
And tomorrow, we shall do what to do after trying
And crying
But today, we have naming of parts

Japonica glistens like coral in the neighbouring grounds
And today we have naming of parts

This is a picture of a ventilator, And this
Is its switch, whose use you will see
When you are given one. And this is tube
Which in your case you have not got

The branches hold in the gardens, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got

This is an oxygen cylinder, which is always turned on
By a twist of the wrist. Please do not me see anyone using a tool
Of which we have not got. You can do it quite easily
If you have any strength left in your arm
Of which we have not got

The blossoms are fragile and motionless
Never letting anyone see
Any of them using a tool, of which we have not got

And this you can see is the valve
The purpose of this is to open the supply of oxygen
To the patient. It is activated by a spring
We call this easing the spring- rapidly backwards and forwards

The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers
They call it easing the spring

They call it easing the spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength left in you
Like the ventilator and the cylinder and the valve
Which in our case we have not got

Like the mask and the visor and the gown
And the aprons and gloves and……
Which again, in our case, we have not got
And the almond blossom
Silent in all the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards
For today we have naming the parts.

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