‘Most Welshmen are worthless,
an inferior breed, doctor.’
He did not know I was Welsh.
Then he praised the architects
of the German death-camps–
did not know I was a Jew.
He called liberals, ‘White blacks’,
and continued to invent curses.
When I palpated his liver
I felt the soft liver of Goering;
when I lifted my stethoscope
I heard the heartbeats of Himmler;
when I read his encephalograph
I thought, ‘Sieg heil, mein Fuhrer.’
In the clinic’s dispensary
red berry of black bryony,
cowbane, deadly nightshade, deathcap.
Yet I prescribed for him
as if he were my brother.
Later that night I must have slept
on my arm: momentarily
my right hand lost its cunning.
“Sometimes it’s very difficult to like some patients. Patients imagine that they’re always likable, but in fact there are some one has great difficulty with, I think. And indeed there was one patient that bugged me so sufficiently that I wrote two poems about him.”
*Audio and text of commentary and poetry reading reproduced with the permission of Dannie Abse. Copyright (c) Dannie Abse. All rights reserved.
Poem appears in the Abse collection, Be Seated, Thou , to be published by Sheep Meadow Press in January, 2000 (PO Box 1345, Riverdale, NY,10471; tel. 718-548-5547)