The prompt: “Today’s prompt is based on this poem by Claire Wahmanholm, which transforms the natural world into an unsettled dream-place. … I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that similarly resists closure by ending on a question…”
Today’s prompt had me thinking for a long time, and I must admit, I didn’t have time to write a new poem. But I’m using this project as a means of curating my poems as much as to write new ones, and so I decided, once again, to go back to an old piece.
I had written this poem, called ‘Doctor Death’, sometime in 2014/2015. At the time, I was deeply influenced by Sylvia Plath, and I think the parallels with some of her images from ‘Daddy’ are pretty obvious. But I think it also fits in with the very first part of the prompt, and Wahmanholm’s incredible poem: to transform a certain situation into a surreal, hellish landscape.
Cancer- warping worm-rose-dreams
Don’t think push down whip back the screams!
Taste the pills crushed in your teeth
Wipe mouth clasp hands please take a seat.
A crack in the breast plate blossoming breath
Smothering sweating drowning death
Retract the clamp, put the life-gas mask
Breathe Lethe-air swirling in that flask.
Hold! Blood pumps at frantic speed
Stitch up the fibres, lest the wound bleed
Staple that crack, protect the heart
Don’t let the sickening Medusa-curse start.
Wait! Stick that needle in
Let the sweet drug bubble in the bloodstream
Let the knife-pain be dulled away
Keep the pitch-fork noise at bay.
There… the black tunnel stretches on
No light no sound no angel-song
Just hammer blood crashing in your ear
Just clenched lung squeezing back your fear.
There… the wind soothes your skin
The sweat freezes, goosebumps set in
A soft white orange wrapping glow
You can breathe in peace, you can let your heart grow.
Thud! They beat back the beating heart
Shove a tube down, force my throat apart
Drag me back out from the cool dark space
Gasping, squeaking, to run the pig-race.
They laugh and lead a tribal dance
White coats flapping in grotesque stance
Re-alive me cries a new death
While they string me around with marionette breath.
This was the image I had in my mind while writing the poem: the ghosts’ dance from Satyajit Ray’s 1969 children’s classic movie, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.
Thank you for reading!