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

disgustingly healthy.


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.

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© 2020 Orris Root

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