Views And Reviews

Poets' corner

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 19 March 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:796
  1. J O Drife

    When I heard that the Virago Book of Birth Poetry had been published I dropped what I was doing and simply flew to the bookshop, fearful that all its copies might already have been snapped up by fellow aesthetes. I found the last one on the shelf and embraced it triumphantly, oblivious of the pointed way Waterstone's staff were staring at my rubber apron. But as I turned the book's brave, bloody, gutsy, inspirational pages, a sense of disappointment welled up inside me. Where were the obstetric contributions?

    Today's typical obstetrician may not be a bright eyed consumptive wasting in a garret, but beneath his or her suavely tailored exterior throbs the heart of a poet. Here are just two examples of the kind of empathic verse missed by Virago's anthologist - one from a junior and one from a senior colleague.

    Night feed

    • Another contraction starts

    • in the darkness

    • from the fundus spreading

    • through silent syncytial cells

    • squeezing wetly, acid squishing

    • till the one within cries out

    • Hey!

    • I'm hungry

    • says mister stomach

    • clogs on lino

    • endless corridor empty but for

    • me, weekend-weary, Sunday-sick

    • no pizza for the wicked

    • at 2am

    • then cold shock numbs my brain


    • the food dispenser mocks me

    • chrome-bright, unnatural

    • its windows unblinking its bending paper plates

    • sinuously seductive

    • but unattainable

    • alluringly lit behind glass

    • like Amsterdam tarts

    • only these are

    • Leeds butties

    Obstetric extraction

    • I observe with clinical detachment

    • the droplets of sweat,

    • pallor, the bounding pulse

    • a most difficult case

    • perhaps beyond saving?

    • silence falls in the little room

    • deathly

    • broken by her shallow breathing

    • we crane attentively

    • is she trying to speak?

    • no

    • my colleague glances at me

    • and shakes his head sadly

    • but I must not give up

    • only I can save her now

    • coolly

    • I reach out my hand for the forceps

    • which clink as I assemble them

    • gleaming, dangerous saviours

    • tell me, I murmur,

    • whose instrument is this?

    • the candidate

    • raises a tear-stained face

    • a spark of recognition flares

    • Kielland's she stammers

    • yes we smile, relaxing

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