in my dark office, see
shadowed spikes of exotic palm
against stone walls
by noon-drunk sun.
I am waiting for a baby. Not mine,
you understand, that is not part of my contract,
but the baby of the woman
who lies gasping
unheard, unseen, around the corner. Her baby
sits, cheeks cradled
in the basket of her pelvis, not knowing
which way to turn, not knowing
that the correct way to enter the world
is to look both ways, then go head first. Too late to turn now.
This baby listens to the pained panting
of its mother’s heart, feels the roof
of her diaphragm tapping
fast staccato beats onto
the small wet muff
of its hair, like urgent rain. Its feet are cold.
This baby, you understand, is not my
I am not the midwife, my hands
do not slide slippery and slimy
up between the redness of thighs,
the warm something poured into
a metal bucket on the floor,
do not touch
the small white toes resting
in the perineum
as if waiting for a bus
which is late. I only watch,
do not move, do not clang together forceps
like giant tongs, lifting,
lifting the gray morsel
into the still world.
He (for now we can see
that it is a boy) lies naked
on my towel.
He is an unfolded nautilus
still dreaming under
listening to the slow
thud of his mother’s heart, the pulse
of the mask on his face,
the quickening beat of my heart,
of my breath
as I try to reach
his will to live. I push
each square digital second
into his waiting chest, time
clinging like mucus to my fingers.
At last he coughs and breathes.
His tiny eyes open and watch.
His heart flutters delicately
under the membrane
of my stethoscope.
Now I sit
in my dark office, pushing
with patient contractions of my pen.
Somewhere in the hospital a mother
breastfeeds. I write.
I move between medicine, science and arts in my life. Often in one day I'll begin as a doctor and end as a poet; or break off from writing a play to attend a meeting on writing a research paper. I don't think it's all that unusual, in fact I think there's more or less a unifying theme to my three vocations - in all of them I'm dealing with stories, trying to understand and then re-express the things that underlie our lives.
Yet it's true that I have developed skillsets that are very different. Although I'm most at home in the consulting room, talking (those who know me will know I love talking!), I'm also well drilled in the protocols of resuscitation. Saving someone's life is more routine than you would think. There are flowcharts to follow, drugs laid out in order, and everyone has their role and even a kind of script.
(the baby is delivered and brought to the table)
(Someone vigorously rubs the baby in a warm towel.)
"No response? Stimulate."
(Someone tickles the baby and blows oxygen on their nose. The baby stirs and gives a weak cry.)
"Heartrate good. Resps established at - 1 minute."
"Are you the Dad? come over here and say hello to your daughter. Congratulations! Got a camera?"
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