Poetry | The medical man

After Bruce Dawe

Outside of work he enjoyed swimming and the stoic philosophers.
He’d offered to help with my cover letter—Friday morning’s flurry
of pre-Christmas discharges having found us feet-up in the registrar
room—and I’d ribbed him for this detail from his. The panel
wants to see that you’re a real person, he’d shrugged,
unabashed. Besides, it worked for me.
               On Sunday
he was cut down from the poinciana, crumpling onto needle-dry
grass, the branch’s recoil dusting him with flame-red flowers.

He was the talk of the wards Monday. A reprieve from the bushfires
that stencilled the east coast, satellite-vast. He’d just passed his exam.
He was about to pop the question. To his peers it was a snub,
that one day he should just cease to beat his wings and free-
fall through the strata
             he’d striven to ascend. How he could send
prizes and publications spiralling into the huge, hungry sky
while the world burned and the CityCats cruised calmly on.

Look after yourselves, enjoined Workforce, with another list of shifts
that needed filling over Christmas. Whispers quickened in the corridors,
south-easterly, now west—the pair of wardies lamenting the waste,
the nurses padding gauzy recollections with Facebook photos
(Dark curls, third from the right, remember?), the surgeon in the lift
(If you can’t take the heat …).
             There’d be a chapel service
at his old school, where clammy boys in too-big blazers would read
from Meditations, their futures fanned towards them like smoke.

At Wednesday’s morning tea we cradled styrofoam cups,
platitudes snagging in the tinsel overhead. I was weightless
with exhaustion, having worked late on my CV, and for a flickering
second I thought I heard the dauntless, terrified shout of a curly-haired
boy bomb-diving through time, face freckled with burst capillaries.
I paused, lamington aloft,
            but then he was gone and so was I,
my pager having summoned me elsewhere.

Isabel Prior

Isabel Prior is a junior doctor from Brisbane who has been published in Westerly and Best Australian Poems 2021.

More by Isabel Prior ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays