3 poems by Oz Hardwick

Jobs for All


Since we started learning online, everybody’s a doctor.

Amazon’s out of stethoscopes and thermometers, and we’ve

had to run up our own white coats on sewing machines that

haven’t been used since our grandmothers’ day. We’ve

learnt the Latin names for everything from boredom to

celebrity fly fishing, we drink too much expensive whisky,

and our writing is an unintelligible scrawl. Some of us

specialise in children, brains, lower limbs, or the organs of

regeneration. Some raise unrealistic expectations of a full

recovery, some raise important concerns, and some just

raise their fees for private consultations before raising

another glass of that twinkling single malt. Some, naturally,

raise the dead, and they have their own specialist

conferences in elegantly ruined seaside hotels. Then there

are vets, tending to trauma on the edges of extinction,

catching birds as they fall from the smoke-filled sky,

identifying loss by the curves of broken bones and cracked

teeth, suturing heartbreak with garden string and tears,

making aching TV documentaries and penning spin-off

bestsellers in unreadable dog Latin. I chose to specialise in

the inanimate and regularly check the pulse of sand, the

temperature of scorched earth, the worrying groan at the

root of rock. Per istam sanctam unctionem, I begin, but

words tie my tongue like a tourniquet, so I just stick a Band-

Aid cross on the newest eruption and phone the psych ward

for further instructions.



The Seaside Line


I find my feet in a crowd, walking the other way as if we’ve

never met. They’re wearing plastic sandals from a Cornish

beach, cat’s eye green at scraped at the heels, and behind

them drags a wheeled tartan case with an ineffectual

padlock. Inside is a brass telescope, an inflatable donkey –

NOT TO BE USED AS A BUOYANCY AID – and a sheaf of

flags for former colonies of a sick and shrinking empire.

The air smells of coronation mugs and gun oil, and it’s so

tempting to get political that I can barely keep from burning

my union jack swimming trunks, but I’ve nothing else to

wear, people are staring, and my feet are striding through a

door which looks like it says NO EXIT, though when a

passing donkey hands me a brass telescope I see that it’s

NOT EXIST. The donkey shrugs, as if to say That’s no sort

of grammar but the meaning’s pretty unequivocal, places a

forehoof in the crook of my elbow, and leads me to a red,

white, and blue door marked SEE.



Absolute Zero


Ice shouldn’t be here. It shouldn’t be dressed down for the

weekend, and it shouldn’t be warming its palms by the fire.

I’m half listening to its story, though at the same time I’m

scrolling through my phone, checking emergency contacts

in case of escalation. Ice is saying something about

misdiagnosis and demands on local services; it’s telling me

how people are afraid of slipping, and how they think they

know more than experts in the field. I’m nodding, but

whether it’s in agreement or exhaustion is open to

interpretation, and my finger’s sliding across the freezing

screen that leads to nothing but link after link, until it comes

to one of those Site Under Construction pages that used to

be everywhere in the 90s. And while I’m thinking this, ice

has reached the nub of the problem and moved on, ordering

groceries it won’t eat, clothes it won’t wear, and books it

won’t read, charging it all to my credit card. Outside,

nothing is happening, and maybe nothing has ever

happened, but ice should be out there in the weather, where

it belongs, dressed up dapper in low sunlight; and I should

be anywhere but here, my phone turned off, talking to

anyone who’ll listen, coining new words to describe my

relationship to ice.


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Oz Hardwick is a European poet and academic, whose work has been widely published

in international journals and anthologies. His tenth collection, A Census of

Preconceptions, will be published by SurVision Books in 2022. To keep the cat fed, Oz

is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University.