Three poems by Cecilia Xu

By Cecilia Xu

Medical school has been full of new and challenging experiences, and writing was a way for me to debrief and make sense of them. These poems are from various stages of MBBS; from moving out of home, to being in the anatomy lab, to being at the bedside. I hope other students can relate and know they’re not alone.

Gratitude Note

I have butchered you
and memorised every beam and crevasse
in the hollows of you
and the places where vessels
weave shapes among
the rippled pillars of bones.

Somebody has been here before
and cleaned you out with a violent mop
and saturated you with fluids until
your colours have changed
and bricks have softened.

Your secret rooms have their locks
cut and doors forced wide,
we are the perverse guests,
we strip down the wallpaper and peer inside.

What once moved
with the liquid of life
is still and cold beneath my knife.

How many times have you loved
with every cell of every limb; did your heart
beat faster for somebody
before it gave out at last?

But I know
that you are not your body.
You have but lived here a while
and now you are gone.

This is a note of gratitude
simply to say, I have come and beheld
your many intricacies
in this miracle of a house.
I hope you will read this and know
it is a beautiful gift.


Today I am a thousand years old
I have seen too much of life
to fear the darkness.

Mornings roll by
with rounds and tea
in turquoise plastic.
Night are spent
sleeping off the headache
I’ve had for years.

You are ninety with eyes
like Christmas lights,
a familiar scent
of laundered linen
swaying in the sun,
a tendency
for two sugars,
and a thready pulse
reminding me

that the life quivering
beneath my two fingers
is fragile and so very light.

Wisdom Teeth

In the thick of the drill,
wrench and stitch
she stands at the end of the bed
and cups my toes in both hands.

On the car ride over we talked
about boys and dinners
and parallel parking
as if I had never left.
Her laughter still sparkles
like the tinsel on our bowing tree.

She walked me into the cold room
with a squeeze of the hand
and the promise of sesame porridge
and bubblegum ice cream.

Her love is formidable
and breaks me
along my every fault line;
my mouth is filled with noise
but I cannot speak.

And here, lying, shivering
under the pearly light
and clattering of metal
I am too preoccupied – as usual –
to reach out my hand
and whisper, thank you.

Featured image by Petar Milošević at Wikimedia Commons.

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