Boy with a Runny Nose


This a one of a sequence of poems I began to write a while ago to John Keats. He trained as a doctor and wrote a beautiful sequence of odes not long before his death. I have often read them and wondered what he would have seen in medicine if he had had the chance to practice. I decided to write some odes to him in response. The ode is an old and venerated form in poetry. It is usually written to a god and was originally sung so makes heavy use of the sound techniques of poetry. Odes have been redesigned over and over again by various poets throughout history and this is my take on the form. The topic was suggested by a 3 year old boy with a runny nose sitting on his mum’s knee during a consultation. I was looking for a ‘big’ subject to begin my conversation with Keats but as usual it was the anti-heroic that caught my eye. God only knows when I’ll finish the sequence though.

Boy with a Runny Nose.

Jesus would have looked like this
once, round-eyed, dog-tongued and panting,
drip, drip, drip, drip, sniffing,
before thoughts of kisses,
‘is’ ness, his father’s business;
cheek to jowl, one tolling bell
of sweet, sad, sweet, sad song;
our on and on, our right and wrong,
our sing-a-long, our Do-Ron-Ron;

Mary, teary, tired and weary,
the cross on which he hung.
His cough: a knock on the innkeeper’s door.
His belly: five loaves and two fishes.
His skin: the smell of frankincense and myrrh.
His sneeze: the sneeze of life,
some virus at host in a nose-blown
bubble of holy snot like an
insect in amber, poor little lamb.

But you truly are the Son of God,
honey-muscled, grubby-chubby,
arms and legs and chest and head
gathering tentatively like
wolves over a fresh carcass;
swaddled in unconquered land,
the ridge and drain of rib and brain;
a pudge-fingered policeman
checking every door at night.

In your eye the unmistakable fire
smouldering, shouldering
all our hiss and fizz and spark.
Already old for time to shrink, make fool,
though age itself the curl of smoke
from ancient engines thundering past;
pudding-round and squelching now:
science, history, geography, art,
nappied on your mother’s knee;

the breath of God perhaps, passed over
and on, from Holy Land to hand and and;
on camel back, the bloody hack;
by sky, by sea, by Jesus wheeze,
to port, to court, by horse of course;
by biscuit, ticket, tide and rip,
by ship, by crew, to you, to you;
I am, I amber, God’s meander, thick,
slick, lip-licked, drip, drip, dripping.

– Glenn Colquhoun

Glenn is a GP working in a Youth Health Service in Horowhenua