Image by Caroline Forbes

Poem introduction

'The Visitors' - this poem stems from working in a surgery - I was always opening letters from consultants and this one seemed more painful than most of them. And the consultant's note was, 'This patient was obviously hallucinating as I spoke to her.'

The Visitors

The Visitors

There was one in the room, thinking of the sherry
he would have before lunch, rocking slightly in his chair.

There was another opposite him, grey hair falling
across a face like a coy but ravaged schoolgirl.

There were others present to whom she would have talked
had he not asked her tedious questions, eyeing her.

They were invisible to him, his ego balanced well,
his libido functioning perfectly, his accountant satisfied.

Sometimes their faces got between her and the desk,
mocking and bony, whispering foul insinuations.

When they advanced too far across the carpet
she wanted to get up and tell them to go away,

but his tight clinical voice held her poised
between the overt grins and the beckoning hands.

In the end, he won, and the others bobbed like balloons
in a corner, unmistakably there, but further away.

At last she was compelled to tell them to go away from her,
though she could see them reflected in his glasses, waiting.

He asked her questions, and noted down her hesitant answers
in a precise hand on a long yellow form.

In the end, he formally ushered her out into the corridor,
the faces, mouthing obscenities, followed in a muddled bunch,

crowding with her through the narrow door, escorting
her back to the ward where they settled in like squatters,

one on the end of the bed, some by the locker,
and one who laid his head on her pillow, talking softly

until she fell asleep abruptly, and for a while
the visitors crept away silently or floated gently out,

leaving only the faintest trace of their presence,
like a perfume or a discarded cigarette burning away.


from Two Women Dancing: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 1995), copyright © Elizabeth Bartlett 1995, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books Ltd

Recordings

Elizabeth Bartlett Reading from her poems

1My Five Gentleman

2Painting of a Bedroom with Cats

3Design

4Disposing of Ashes

5The Visitors

6999 Call

7Charlotte, Her Book

8Stretch Marks

9To Tracy with Love

10Egg Tempera

11Art Class

12Entering Language

13Themes for Women

14The Limbo Line

15Notes for a Thesis on the Thirties

16The Winter Gardens

17North Terminal

18The Harrods of Porth

19Deutschmarks and Lemon Trees

20Legends and Realities

21Abstract

22The Winter's Tale

23Sunflower

24Mine

25The Lace Maker

26The Beautiful Knees of the Visiting Lay Preacher

27Schadenfreude

28Enemies

29The Geldings

30Vikings

Books & cds by Elizabeth Bartlett