By Denise O’Hagan


Every hospital has a Charlie
Someone who’s slipped through society’s cracks
And sits obstinately on the outside
A grit in the eye of every passerby
And a reproof to government healthcare.

He was sitting there today
By the thick glass sliding doors
A great raw trunk of a man
Marooned in his chair
By bewilderment and swollen ankles,
A latter-day Humpty-Dumpty.

His eyes rake you in as you walk past
Slit windows to a private hell
As he wages his daily battle with self-expression
But his sentences dangle, words mangled
Limp as the cigarette in his mouth.

You nod and smile:
It’s the least you can do
Hoping this tiniest of overtures
Won’t lead to more
Then wishing you didn’t feel that way
Because you know, deep down,
Irrelevance plays no part in it –
There is meaning in the fall of a sparrow
And Charlie has something to tell us.

So you plug up the holes in your heart
With well-practised, comforting pity,
Blink away the tears in his eyes
And wave goodbye to something in yourself
As you walk on to the rest of your life
Scarcely daring to wonder
If things had been different
Could you have been him?