When I was a medical student
I stole two femurs of a baby
from The Pathology Specimen Room.
Now I keep them in my pocket,
the right femur and the left femur.
Like a boy scout, I’m prepared.
For what can one say to a neighbour
when his wife dies? ‘Sorry’?
Or when a friend’s sweet child
suffers leukaemia? ‘Condolences’?
No, if I should meet either friend
or stricken neighbour in the street
and he should tell me, whisper to me,
his woeful, intimate news,
wordless I take the two small femurs
from out of my pocket sadly
and play them like castanets.
“I felt that poetry shouldn’t be an escape from reality, but rather an immersion into reality, and part of my reality was, indeed, my hospital life at the time. And so I became prepared to write poems which had medical undertones. Louis Pasteur once said (talking of scientific inspiration), ‘Chance favors the prepared mind,’ and my mind was prepared to write poems that were medically colored.”
*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)