Black balloons/First year medical student
Behind the curtain,
You on the hospital bed in your backless blue gown.
Me, nervously standing in my best black trousers and badly ironed shirt.
You have pale skin, grey hair and eyes that are aquamarine.
There are strange gaps in the tops of your shoulders where muscle should be and
I have never seen an arm so thin.
I feel too tanned, too fleshed out.
A layer of fat filling out under my skin,
a sea mammal;
blubbery, plump and
I help your gown off and your shoulders and neck heave
up and down with your breath.
You let me into your secret world of scars:
white line across your neck
staple marks on your abdomen
I try and make my face lie open naked as you.
I’m told to begin the examination,
I still don’t know what that means.
To use your body like a drum, rap my fingers on you while listening
for tiny tympanic beats
tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap
I can’t yet hear the changes,
I hear footsteps on the floor a nurse wheeling a trolley,
laughter of visitors
the impatient click of my tutor’s pen.
I know I’m supposed to hear
the dullness of your liver
the blunt shape of your heart
I can hear the drum beats,
but not the sounds change over your body.
My stethoscope is a strange metal arm I extend towards you
listening to the world within.
I hear the ocean of your heart
turning inside of you,
trees filling with air
moving in the breeze,
the crackle of leaves underfoot the slow creaking hinge of a door.
I hear your voice distant and distorted
as if you are speaking underwater I am six years old
leaning into my mother’s side hearing her read to me
through her body.
I eavesdrop on these pieces of you
in a strange foreign forest of sound.
I place my cold hands on your warm abdomen.
This is the part I fear the most.
I push softly with the tips of my fingers
I am supposed to feel your organs lying like a meat-tray inside:
your liver your spleen your kidneys behind.
All I can feel is a soft soft belly that reminds me of being a child.
Suddenly I am too close,
with you half naked and my palms pressing,
I feel I am trying to out your innards,
hang you in front of me:
a painting I will never understand.
I want to turn off all the lights let the ward be silent.
To stand there until my hands make sense of the softness and
those organs that lie there and hide,
camouflaged in darkness,
like black balloons
curl around my fingers and
disclose their shape to me.
We catch each other’s gaze you and I,
and for a moment we are two animals in the wild
who have startled each other;
we are unaware in that instant
who should be more afraid.