A podcast has me listening to Leigh Chislett,
HIV nurse at St Mary’s in the mid-Eighties.
I think of Gunn, who trained both barrels
at men like me in ’92. Then try imagining Wilfred,
still writing ‘I with who another ghost am lain’,
but then surviving late into his nineties.
Just long enough to see yet another cause
of ‘vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues’
or to summon the will that saw him fighting
‘like an angel’ at the moment he ‘came out
to help these boys […] to speak of them as well
as a pleader can.’ And then, of course,
Housman – whose ‘fear contended with desire’
– who leant across his lectern in ’33 to say,
‘as for a verse in in the forty-ninth Psalm:
But no man may deliver his brother, nor make
agreement unto God for him; that is to me
poetry so moving that I can hardly keep my voice
steady in reading it.’ And so I try imagining
the three of them watching over Leigh, just as
he worries for a patient, who’s signed up
for a dodgy drug on an experimental trial,
only to receive reply: ‘I’m going to die anyway.
This is for those who will come after me.’
William Thompson is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol. Born in Cambridgeshire in 1991, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wild Court, The Honest Ulsterman, Lighthouse, Ink Sweat & Tears, Quince and The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019-21 (Eyewear).