Pulled by the sky's gravitation
Smoke falls upwards;
The monkey-spider floats, in perfect balance;
And a child on shaky limbs
Drops into its mother's arms,
Or falls light - no need to fear the fall
When earth is near and motherly.
But no maternal arms
Reach out to save those on shaky limbs
Who fall in second childhood.
The earth is hard and far away beneath them
The bones are brittle
And every fall brings pain or injury -
Until, at last, light
As smoke, they feel once more
The gravity of the sky
And learn to fall upwards.
- from Apollo, an anthology of poems by doctor poets (ed E. Lowbury, pub. 1990).
This is a book that's been in my possession for a while, but I wasn't until I went on my latest medical working trip to Greymouth that I took it out. Lowbury, a pathologist, includes two of his own poems in this anthology that samples widely from modern poets to the poet-physicians of antiquity (when indeed art and medicine were viewed as the same thing - Apollo was the winged god of poetry, medicine and music.)
What I love most of all about this poem is the surprise of the last line, a truly surprising and revelatory moment but one which the poem, with deceptive simplicity, builds up to. It's one finely poised between emotion and observation too - an edge which, as all doctors know, is a difficult one to walk. Although it's never mentioned, I have a sense that Lowbury is not just referring to his patients, but to some personal experience of the "shaky limbs" and the hardness of the world in a "second childhood".
In the introduction to his book, Lowbury observes: "With his wide experience of humanity a doctor should be able to view the world more objectively and with more empathy than most people; if he is poet this should broaden the scope of his writing, not only in the depiction of, or in imagery derived from, personal experience. Indeed, it is in their response to a wider range of human experience... that doctor poets have made their most widely valued contribution to poetic literature."