Preservation

BY NATALIE EVANS

The following piece received 1st place in the Writing (Clinical) section of The Auricle’s 2021 Writing and Visual Art Competition and is responding to the prompt “Where the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” Uttered by Hippocrates millennia ago, has this adage stood the test of time?:”

Like Plath said –

about the woman in the ambulance,

our red hearts are meant to bloom through our clothes,

meant to bleed with the blood of lives lived, lives trying to live, lives failing,

picked for our hearts that bleed when patients bleed.

She talks of Poppies in October –

we pick poppies all year,

pick them on a sunny day and preserve them,

press them into notebooks and assignments,

almanacs of patient species.

Eyes cloudy with the frost of age,

skin so papery you can see blue rivulets,

that collapse in fright –

they’ve done this before.

He has had enough,

with each little stab he says so,

poppies are no ordinary bloom you see,

for you can fall asleep in poppy fields.

Students talk with one another,

human amphorae with facts to pour like wine,

spilling over the floor,

and we slip and tumble in it all.

History to the Anaesthetist and body to the Surgeon,

life sliced like an apple,

into neat little pieces of yes and no,

of midnight fevers and asthmatic wheezes.

How did we get here?

A timer ticks down and a bell rings,

what I want to know is, is there blood in the cough?

And why do I care? Now I remember.

You can suffocate on air,

when tar gluts your passages,

and you rip off the oxygen mask.

Yesterday I saw his wife.

We pick poppies all year,

pick them on a sunny day and preserve them,

press them into notebooks and assignments,

almanacs of patient species.

I don’t want to die – no gas cries the boy,

when you go to sleep it’s like you are dead,

I promise I’ll stay still – promise.

Needle pricks flesh and not even a flinch.

Wisdom comes from those,

who’ve travelled the same path before,

but found new ones as they walked,

in forests of past obscurity.

When knowledge comes,

and stays,

settling down in tired heads,

then the real work begins.

We pick poppies all year,

pick them on a sunny day and preserve them,

press them into notebooks and assignments,

almanacs of patient species.

You know it’ll fry my brain,

those electrode things and the seizures,

God wouldn’t like it.

We tell him God has no choice.

I’m eighteen and I want to help people.

Don’t say that,

everyone says that,

tell me, can you prove it?

Birth, life, death,

and then birth again,

humanity prevails in shrieks and wails,

and the brag of the heart I am I am S1 S2.

You cannot help without heart,

for the automaton sits in the corner,

it can tilt its head and extend its hand,

but it is cold to touch.

When did you start using?

Oh maybe twelve or thirteen,

for when people hit you,

you look for other kinds of hits.

On the street,

a woman begs for money,

it is for medication,

yes but what kind and I know and she knows and she goes.

Starry-eyed flirt when you start,

years pass,

as you fall in and out of love,

you think this romance might last.

Jigsaw people,

wheeled along antiseptic floors,

the pieces of the human puzzle,

all scrambled in our hive minds.

Missing pieces,

lurk within body and soul,

sometimes found,

mostly lost. 

Flicking through crumpled pages,

notes from the wards,

endless quotations,

wondering what did they mean?

We pick poppies all year,

pick them on a sunny day and preserve them,

press them into notebooks and assignments,

almanacs of patient species.

Will I get better?

Where do we go –

            in the end?
                        Who will we be -
             before then,
                         lost in a sea
                                    of maybe, 
                                                             of we’ll see.

Author’s Note: 

“Plath” refers to poet Sylvia Plath, and fragments from her poetry, ‘’Poppies in October’’ and, ‘’Tulips’’, as well as her novel, ‘’The Bell Jar’’, are referenced throughout the poem.

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