Finest: Roy Marshall – “Carrying the Arrest Bleep”

Roy Marshall Finest

Carrying the Arrest Bleep

It’s cool, at first, to feel it
weighting my pocket, to be wired to a
voice swathed in static,

to run through empty corridors
past a gallery of night-blacked windows,
down stairwells

that smell of the dust
drifting in the hospital’s
concrete heart. To be joined

by junior doctors, going hell for leather
over walkways, the city below
sunk in 3am quiet, our feet

skidding in corners, bursting through doors
into the light of a ward
where I’ll slap pads

to a chest, get busy with compressions
and the drawing up of drugs.
The buzz wears off

with each heart pumped or shocked;
paper thin skin over prominent ribs,
grey chest hair and deflated breasts

all our futures laid bare
in a strip lit bay, the whole scene
lasting far too long

and when the registrar asks
if we agree to stop, I meet
his eye, and nod.

First published in The Rialto, Issue 81, 2014.

“I have often wondered about the value of explaining what a poem is about and where it came from. I recently told a joke to illustrate how I sometimes feel about such explanations.

Interviewer: Can you tell us how you came to write that poem?
Poet: I did it sitting down, and I used my hands.

“Partly, I feel a poem is an entity and that once it has left me it must make its own way in the world, for better or worse, and without further input from me. The poem is like a teenager out with their friends, and my turning up to speak on its behalf or tell a story would surely just cause embarrassment.

“Having said this, I jumped at Ben’s kind invitation to share a poem I am proudest of, or maybe which means a lot to me and have been glad of the opportunity to revisit and think a little about the poem above.

“Firstly, I remembered that when I read it aloud, as part of a sequence of poems that dealt with the same theme, I would always introduce it with a little explanation to provide context. This is something of a written version of that introduction so here goes.

“For just over a decade, I was a coronary care nurse, often working nights in a busy city hospital. I loved my job and most of the people I worked with during those intense and busy years. When I moved on to a research post I began to process some of that experience through a sequence of poems called ‘Traces’. They appeared in my second book, The Great Animator in 2017. I remember that these poems almost wrote themselves, or rather they were some of the easiest poems I have ever written, seeming to come ‘via’ me rather than ‘from’ me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard to make them as good as I could though reading aloud and extensively drafting and redrafting. It’s just that the poems seemed to be ‘there’ already, almost as if they were just waiting for me to write them down.

“When I looked at this poem again today, I remembered and revisited a brilliant summary of Robert Frost’s essay The Figure a Poem Makes, by Martyn Crucefix available to read on Martyn’s website, here.

“I feel I can relate to Frost’s description of the experience of writing a poem, particularly when I think of working on ‘Carrying the Arrest Bleep’, although it is unlikely that I would have been conscious of the processes Frost describes and Crucefix helps to clarify. As much as anything I have written, this poem (which has now grown up and left home) seemed to want to do what Frost writes about;

“it “inclined to the impulse”, assumed “direction with the first line laid down,” ran a course “of lucky events” and, “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove” it rode “on its own melting.””

Roy Marshall wrote poems and stories as a child. While working as a nurse, and after a gap of some thirty years, he began writing again. A pamphlet of poems, Gopagilla (Crystal Clear) was published in 2012. A full collection The Sun Bathers (2013) followed and was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy award. Other books are The Great Animator (2017) and translations of the Italian poet Eugenio Montale, After Montale (2019) all published by Shoestring Press.


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