Reading: The Day I Got My Finger Stuck Up My Nose by Brian Patten

From Liverpool poet Brian Patten (b. 1946) I have read several poems about lost or budding love and lost friendship, that I could enjoy for their direct and precise language. Patten has written many poetry books for adults and children during his long career, and is associated with poems like Philip Larkin and Alan Ginsburg. I choose a funny poem to counterbalance the taste of schmaltz these poems very sublty invoked in my mouth.

The Day I Got My Finger Stuck Up My Nose
When I got my finger stuck up my nose
I went to a doctor, who said,
“Nothing like this has happened before,
We will have to chop off your head.”

“It’s only my finger stuck up my nose,
It’s only my finger!” I said.
“I see what it is,” the doctor replied,
“But we’ll still have to chop off your head.”

He went to the cabinet and took out an axe.
I watched with considerable dread.
“But it’s only my finger stuck up my nose.
It’s only a finger!” I said.

“Perhaps we can yank it out with a hook
Tied to some surgical thread.
Maybe we can try that,” he replied
“Rather than chop off your head.”

“I’m never going to pick it again.
I’ve now learned my lesson,” I said.
“I won’t stick my finger up my nose –
I’ll stick it in my ear instead.”

Refreshing when such verse comes from a poet who also writes

You lose your love for her and then
It is her who is lost,
And then it is both who are lost,
And nothing is ever as perfect as you want it to be.

The human condition is here aptly depicted as picking the senses that open us to the world. Why do we pierce our sensory organs, are we not happy just using them? Do we do it symbolically to remind ourselves we have an option to shut the world out? And isn’t plugging your ear the more radical solution, that is precisely encouraged by the medieval treatment method the docter proposes in the poem? He plugs his ears so he won’t hear the docter’s advice no more.

Perhaps he realizes this means the docter (who is Death) will eventually chop off his head. But he doesn’t need to bother because he can’t hear the docter. It is an anti-Faustian deal: You will be decapitated in the end but at least you can penetrate yourself and live without the agonizing fear of being capitated, as long as it lasts.

Such a thick interpretation is admittedly creative and should be consumed tongue-in-cheek. Who transforms a rhyme about nose-picking into a evocation of Death? Bugger.

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