The Humbling Of A Liverpool Citizen Poem by Barney Rooney

The Humbling Of A Liverpool Citizen

Rating: 4.3

Good morning Bernard how are we today?
The girl in the paleblue uniform top leans across my bed
the pillow is straightened and gently eased beneath my head
and the light clean smell of perfume warms me to the voice
without moving I will myself closer to her breath
and answer strong and confident. ‘I’m fine girl, what about yourself?

‘Are you ready for your breakfast? Anything you need? ’
I assure her I’m fine. She turns to leave the room
and her shape framed in the doorway is leaving far too soon
though with these years of difference the thought does not escape
that I need to catch myself on but to slow her leaving I repeat
‘I'm fine just need to wash and dress. I’ll be along right away.’
‘OK’ she says ‘its a big day for you today’

I’ve lived in this room now for.... it must be 7 weeks
I count neither days or nights for most of them I sleep
and the blandness of the waking day leaves little that will keep
me awake. I slowly drift through time’s soft mass
which hangs with dull weight both on this place and me
broken by this visit, odd human noises, the silent flicker of tv
and the rituals of housekeeping.

My first care home was Lathbury House when I came to need a place
with staff and meals and showers and other people of my age
I do not wish to recall the events that brought me there
but the children all were raised and riding their strong years
without fear or favour, they’d dispersed, gone their way
I didn’t find it the greatest place but in that I had little say.

I have sworn to myself never to use the phrase ‘when I was young’
that mark of desperation to claim I was once someone
and the eyes of the younger listener take on an instant glaze
and other things beyond the face attract the listener’s gaze
I couldn’t stand the pathos if attentiveness was spent
by the boring way that I recalled my life’s mundane events.
Those pleading words would throw away the little I have left

For I have no other value. I am sheltered by compassion and by duty fed,
neither of these is loving though provided till I’m dead
and every penny taken notwithstanding that I paid
my dues throughout a working life. The clawing fingers of those
who resent a welfare state now have their way and they
make sure that we are a burden, liability, a loss
all discussion of my life is about its cost.

Rather than share, as they shared laughter, wind, rain and sun,
neighbourliness and friendship, even the benefits of nation
my children will be expected to make their own arrangements
the milk of human kindness soured by righteous indignation
but there are always contradictions. For still I come with a fee
and there is enough of it to create a carefree industry
of businesspeople, corporations and doctors on the make

for whom this wrecked body has some value
At this stage it would be very sad indeed not to be reconciled
to how life is and how it will be, as it is sad that those who
profit from my value don’t really value me,
but I have digressed. I was in Lathbury House for the best part of 2 years
when the rumours of a closure brought a meeting to address our fears

I remember we shuffled into the dining room and each took their seat
and there we were told of a plan that was almost complete
to move us to Holt House a half mile up the road. Nice and near.
The decision had to be made and we couldn’t stay here
for the building was to be sold and to inform us any sooner
would have caused distress. Because of their compassion
and heartfelt sorrow we are being consulted today and moved tomorrow

Holt House was then closed in turn in the November of that year
and on we moved again, though the numbers now were fewer
for in addition to the normal attrition some just gave up and died
what else can be expected - such change - what hope to try
to start again in a new place, with old photos and keepsakes
and now I neither know nor care and I do not give a damn
about this place, or where it is or even who I am

When I’m ready she returns and introduces me to Tony.
‘Bernard this is Tony, he'll take you in your chair’
and Tony says ‘Hi, Bernard, looking forward to WE-CARE? ’

So I broke the life long rule
‘when I was young our granny lived with us, she was born in 1863
and when she died she was even older, older still than me
when she was young the Famine was within living memory
a million starved while the food they grew funded english prosperity
at the age of 11 she worked in Belfast mills to clothe the likes of you.
When the NHS was set up what did they promise it was for?
To thank the people for their sacrifice in the depression and the war,
health free from the cradle to the grave, and everyone belonged
but now I know it was only to make the workers stronger
so the profit from their labour could be extracted from them longer
Now the muscle isn’t needed but the rich still need their wealth
we either have to do without or pay for it ourselves.
I worked in social services, the bosses I know them all
and I never knew a one of them born with any balls.
They cut and cut and cut and cut and called it modernise
and the managers drew a bonus for every penny saved.
I knew children taken into care because their mother wasn’t married
grown old in the Cottage Homes as the warden’s fetch and carry.
Now you’ve picked me up and put me down and picked me up again,
packed my bag, then emptied it and packed it all and when
someone says you have to jump, you jump like a feckin slave
and three times, now four you’ve jumped to put me in my grave.......’

For want of energy the torrent of anger subsided into the gloom
of an oath broken. And punished in a brutal, telling way
‘Eh Bernard, ’ said Tony, ’ you’re in form today’

Monday, September 30, 2013
Topic(s) of this poem: caregiving
This story is based on the experience of elderly people in Liverpool Care Homes as the early stages in the process of privatisation led to closures, inhuman treatment and distress for people in the last days of their life. It is based in fact.
Gail Beuning Holt 08 February 2020

This is a very interesting poem. You mentioned the " Holt home" . I would like to know more about it. I am a sister of your friend and fellow poet Darwin Henry Beuning.

0 0 Reply
Terry Dawson 30 September 2015

Oh, this is very different and I greatly enjoyed to read it. Pity though that a note of bitterness crept in, but if that's tthe way it is then what help for it?

0 0 Reply
Valsa George 31 August 2015

With bated breath I read your 'sad' (?) tale! This is not your story alone but the story of many aged people who seek shelter in old age homes! The frequent changes are something too hard for an old person to bear. Still one has no say! Everyone is interested in making money and reaping profits! Hope you won't have yet another change of dwelling! I appreciate the way you have stoically resolved to your fate! A remarkable write! A 10

0 0 Reply
Achill Lad 27 September 2014

Tried four times to rate this poem a ten, but it's not being accepted. Will try once more with this comment.

0 0 Reply
David Harris 27 July 2014

Another excellent read. With you one hundred percent. Well done.

0 0 Reply
Error Success