Prisoners

For Peter Hetherington, recovering from a stroke in Bedford hospital

We’ve heard how bold Prometheus, for stealing fire from the gods
and giving it to men, was chained down to a rock. We shiver
as we contemplate his dreadful punishment:
an eagle sent each day by Zeus to breakfast on his liver.

And even worse, we read in Dante Ugolino’s awful fate:
he and his sons immured and left to starve. Did he subsist
a few days more by eating their dead bodies? Human cruelty
is yet more shocking than the vengeance of the gods (who don’t exist).

And what of she, condemned to waste her beauty in a tower,
and only glimpse the outside world reflected in a glass
until Sir Lancelot rode by? She cracked, as did the mirror. I should think
that any normal girl would turn her head to see him pass.

But none of these unfortunates of history or of myth
in terms of sheer frustration in confinement can compare
with one who, in our own day, chafes heroically at bonds.
He longs to test his legs; he pushes up; he leaves his chair —

but straight away a voice reproves him: from a plastic box
wired to his seat, it barks, ‘Peter, sit down! To stand is not allowed!’
And he relents. Restriction insupportable! But patience, maestro: soon
— unlike the titan, count and lady — you’ll be standing proud.