In Mind - a written monument to all people with intellectual disability. (Items 31 to 40)

50 pieces of poetry and short prose by Peter Limbrick

This is collection of short pieces about people of all ages who have learning disabilities and about the conditions they experience in any country. The collection spans the period from the1970s, coinciding with the gradual closure of some of the big 'mental handicap hospitals' in the UK.

The poetry and prose pieces, written in a variety of voices, are offered as a monument to adults and children who have lived and died or are living now in inhuman situations. The first piece, ‘Letter’, is from an imaginary hospital manager to a national newspaper. It sets the context for this In Mind collection.

Some poems mention One-to-One and the One-to-One book. This was a 1970’s project in the USA and then UK to raise awareness of adults and children condemned to institutions.

Some of Peter's other poems are published in recent issues of Scintilla, the journal of literary criticism, prose and new poetry in the metaphysical tradition.

Please contact Peter if you would like to use one or more of these pieces in some way.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


31. Jamie’s Family

Bridget is sitting with a cup of tea and a cigarette at

the kitchen table.

It is three in the morning, she is wide awake – again.

She always lies in bed wondering whether to get up

or lie in the dark worrying.

Getting up might mean disturbing Patrick or waking

Jamie in the next room.

Jamie is two years old and hardly ever sleeps through,

so waking him is to be avoided.

Tonight, she had dozed off and then woke in a panic

remembering the TV news of young disabled people

being badly treated in a care home.

This is her biggest worry: about what will happen to

Jamie when she dies. 

Her own health is an issue now. She is always

stressed and she is sure that is causing her weight


The doctor said she is not quite obese yet and

prescribed antidepressants. Antidepressants!

She knows full well she needs some practical help

with Jamie more than pills.

She knows Patrick is not happy. When they were

told Jamie had a genetic problem, his mother said,

‘It didn’t come from our side of the family!’

Bridget has been wondering ever since if Patrick

blames her for Jamie’s disability.

He lost his last job because of Jamie.

In the early days, management gave him time off to

go to appointments but then had to sack him.

In his new job he works all hours and really needs a

good night’s sleep.

Bridget feels Patrick is torn between loving Jamie and

wanting his career back on track.

The doctor had asked her about her social life.

Social life? That was before Jamie came along!

Kiera is lonely too.

Her friends don’t come round anymore and there’s

no money for after-school activities. Kiera doesn’t

complain though, she dotes on her little brother.

That is the positive side. Jamie is so loveable and

Bridget can’t imagine being without him.

Being without him – more fuel for the small hours.


32. Back to Front

I had already met the family. This was my

first visit to work with their baby at home.

Both parents said they had been slow learners

at school.

Word had spread.

I found the room full of relatives, friends and

neighbours leaving only a small space for me

by the door.

Mother and baby were over by the gas fire.

She was kneeling on the floor. He was on his

back next to her, one knee partly raised.

I saw a rare opportunity.

Getting her attention, I asked his mother to

gently nudge the raised knee over towards

the other side.

She did. He rolled onto his tummy, raised his

head and smiled.

A first!

Now he would no longer be a passive child

lying supine on the floor.

Such an important new skill! So many proud


The high point of my career?

No, it was the baby who had showed me

what he was ready for. 


33. Child

Look beyond

the plaster on her cheek

fixing the feeding tube.


Look beyond

the scar on her scalp,

the tube under her skin

draining the excess fluid

from her brain.


Look beyond

the blue tinge of her flesh

wanting oxygen.


Look beyond.

You will see a child

looking at you.


34. Baby

There is a dictum in the world of education

that there is no such thing as a child who cannot

learn, only a teacher who cannot teach.

I met my match with a baby who was born in crisis

and found to have brain damage.

I had worked with many such babies, usually in

their homes and always with a parent present.

They all learned something; perhaps about smiling,

rolling, turning to their name or holding a spoon.

These sorts of gains often came quite quickly.

But not with this child.

Nine months proved me an incompetent teacher.

Her mother looked in vain for progress.

She had been warned by the hospital doctors that

her child would not walk, talk, feed herself or

become continent, probably, ever.

At the end of one of my sessions, wholly taken up

with trying to soothe the crying baby, the mother

herself broke down in tears saying she was afraid her

daughter was going to die.

After she became calmer, she finished the thought,

‘I am also afraid she will live.’


35. Label

Please do not tell me, Doctor, that my baby is disabled.

It is such a leaden word to hang around such a young neck.

This medical label you would use (as if a label were

necessary) speaks only of what she cannot and possibly will

not do.

You can tell me her vision is impaired, her hearing is

limited, her brain is not sending the right messages to legs,

arms and hands. You can tell me her reflexes are immature

and that she is not yet doing what other babies of her age

can do.

Then I will tell you, if you will really listen and believe, how

she smiles when she sees me, laughs when I tickle her and

rolls to get her teddy. Then about the games we play in the

bath, how she touches my face, tries to sing, looks so sad

when I cry.

You cannot know what she will be doing next year or when

she is five years and ten years old. By the time she is fifteen

she might be into music, painting, swimming, horse-riding,

sailing. She might be in a group of mutually supportive

teenage friends.

When she is twenty-five she could be doing something

amazing to raise money for children in need. At thirty, a

way might be found for her to talk to medical students

about respect, rights and positivity. You have no idea what

abilities she is hatching.

Of course, as a young woman she might decide to adopt

the disability label as a political stance. Her choice entirely.

In the meantime, if you must have a label to hang on her,

please choose another word that is less condemning,

a word for which there is real evidence,

not one that is predictive guesswork in a negative mindset,

a word that is carefully selected to help her through her

unusual life.

Your disability label is not doing either of us any good.


36. Malcolm

I wonder how you are. I wonder where you are.

I am sure you heard our little Malcolm died. If not, then

I am sorry to give you such terrible news. He died in

hospital on February 22nd two years ago. It was 4.47 in the


I was with him.

I was angry when you left but I can understand your

despair. His birth was a horrendous experience for you, the

long hours of labour, the sudden emergency plan for a C-

section and then the doctor pulling him out with forceps at

the last minute. When they told us he had brain damage it

was more than either of us could bear.           

I see now it was a bad decision for you to stay at home

with Malcolm while I finished my season with the orchestra.

I should have stopped work to help you. What difficult days

you had. Neither of us was sleeping, we were both short

tempered and always ready for a fight.

I remember the many hospital appointments you had to

take Malcolm to as well as managing all his procedures and

medications while you were exhausted. It was grossly unfair

of me to leave all this to you.

You know I always felt a special rapport with our little boy.

I could see a deep wisdom in his eyes as though he had the

answers to all life’s mysteries. I saw him as a special gift for

the two of us. If only I could have learned his language.

I know you do not agree with me on this, but it is what I


After you left he had so many emergency hospital

admissions, his life seemed to hang on a thread. He had

heart and lung problems, pneumonia, an operation to drain

fluid from his brain and an intestinal blockage that had to be

removed. Each time he came home with more tubes, more

medications and more danger signs to watch out for.

At first the doctors were understanding, explaining the

issues, giving options for treatment and leaving the

decisions to me.

As time went on though, they talked more about his level

of suffering, his quality of life until one of the options they

offered was not operating, not reviving him, letting him go.

Those were the time I most wanted to talk to you.

His last crisis was a major infection with a sky-high

temperature. The doctors made it clear they thought more

interventions were not in his best interests.

In the end, I followed their lead. When Malcolm did not

improve, they just did all they could to keep him

comfortable and pain free. That is when he died.

Our little Malcolm died!

If I could go back, I would make a different decision. He

trusted me to look after him and I betrayed him and you.

I want our little son back.

He was unique and very special. I miss him so much.

Where are you?


37. Psychologist

the psychologist came

stayed ten minutes

saw Pat in the kitchen

saw Pat and the wheelchair

saw strange movement

of face and hands

heard no words

he could decipher

wrote in his book

the child is ineducable

Pat cannot go to school

the family started

Pat on reading

the psychologist came

stayed ten minutes

saw Pat in the kitchen

in the wheelchair

saw Pat study words

point at pictures

wrote in his book

the child is educable

Pat can go to school


38. Nothing Special

Isobel’s mother was vulnerable and afraid

her baby would die if she brought her home. 

She would go to her cot one morning and find her

dead. Staff on the neonatal unit knew three-month-

old Isobel was ready for discharge. They needed

the cot for other babies.

Isobel had suffered neurological damage and had

cerebral palsy and vision impairment. She was

fitted with a nasogastric tube, needed regular

suction to keep her airways clear and had an array

of daily medications. The paediatrician put the

family in touch with a home-visiting teacher. After

two or three weeks while everyone got to know

each other, Isobel went home.

The teacher, as the family’s keyworker, visited

three times a week for a couple of hours, building

a trusting relationship with Isobel’s parents, finding

answers to their questions and helping them spend

quality time with Isobel. Isobel’s mother became

gradually more relaxed and more confident in her

natural parenting skills.

The regularity of visits reduced during two years

until Isobel was offered a place in a special nursery.

By this time her mother was no longer vulnerable

or afraid. In fact, she had become strong, strong

enough to take on the education authority when

they were looking for a school with proper

support and strong enough to support other

families at the neonatal unit.

Parents told everyone their support could not

have been better. But all they had been given was a

person they trusted who could be with them as

they learned to value their own skills in bringing up

Isobel. Nothing very special in that.


39. On Hold

Roz and Jeb are arguing. They love each other and their

baby daughter, Tilly, but they are both tired and stressed.

The argument began about money. Debts are piling up.

Jeb is worried he might be demoted at work because

people are saying how tired he looks. He thought Roz

should cut back on spending. Roz reminds him how

expensive Tilly is; the special buggy, the therapists, taxi

rides to the hospital since she gave up her car. They have

cancelled their summer holiday and the proofreading

course that might have brought an income. She does not

buy clothes any more. What else can they cut back on?

Roz feels her life is on hold since Tilly was born and she

can see no end to it.

Jeb suggested he could find extra work for evenings and

weekends but Roz is horrified at the thought of having

even more time on her own at home with Tilly. Jeb says

he knows how tired Roz gets but that his life is not easy

either, running training sessions after only three hours


Jeb tries to lighten the mood, telling her Andrew and

Pavel have invited them to their civil partnership

barbecue on Sunday. Roz is pleased to hear from them,

they are the only neighbours who have ever taken an

interest in Tilly. They had actually come round to ask

why Tilly had stayed in hospital after Roz came home

from the maternity unit. Roz feels bitter that other

neighbours, whom she used to consider friends, are

avoiding her. A couple of them cross over when they see

her coming with Tilly.

But, she says, she cannot go to the barbecue because her

hair is a mess, she feels drab, she has nothing she could

wear and she would have no interesting conversation

since she gave up her hotel work. Her life has such a

narrow focus now looking after Tilly.

Jeb tries in vain to persuade her. She wants Jeb to go

with Tilly and leave her at home to catch up on some

sleep. Jeb has another idea. They could ask Roz’s mum to

baby sit while they go for a ramble over the hills like they

used to before Tilly came along. This will not work, says

Roz, because her mother is afraid to look after Tilly since

she saw her having one of her fits. There is no point

asking her to baby sit again.

But Roz has been thinking. While they are at the

barbecue she will bring Tilly’s cot into their bedroom and

arrange the put-you-up for Jeb in Tilly’s room. That way

he would get more sleep and be more effective at work.

Jeb has no answer to this and goes upstairs because Tilly

has woken up and is crying.


40. Twosome

We were a successful team

- mother, baby boy and me.

We liked working together,

by now knew each other well.

One morning, seeing she was

distracted, not joining in,

I asked if perhaps she thought

the games inappropriate.

‘No’, she shouted, collapsing

into tears. ‘My husband

packed and left late last night.

He has abandoned us both!’

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