CONTENTS

 

Editorial
  Helen Ker —Read here

Hypochondria
  Elizabeth Morton —Read here

Taking your son to the detox clinic
  Frankie McMillan —Read here

Treatments
  Elizabeth Morton —Read here

The professor of anatomy introduces Mac
Francis it’s time we talked about the double helix
  Kerrin P. Sharpe —Read here

Gristle
  Elizabeth Morton —Read here

Vital signs
A neurosurgeon collaborates with his dreams
  Kerrin P. Sharpe —Read here

A literary exploration of the grief associated with medical illness
  Hannah Coombridge —Read here

Tangihanga
Nervosa
  Sarah Maindonald —Read here

Her brain
  Hannah Coombridge —Read here

Not standing upright there
  Paul Stanley Ward

The body talks
  William Sherborne —Read here

Inheritance
  Johanna Emeney —Read here

Friend bequest (from a modern cad)
  Emily Adam —Read here

Taking transgender healthcare seriously
  Alex Ker —Read here

Wheel of Fortune
  Greg Judkins —Read here

Simple first aid
  Hannah Coombridge —Read here

RSI
  Amber Read —Read here

Giving sorrow words: the cathartic power of writing
  Sandra Arnold

Medical miracles
  Johanna Emeney —Read here

Dissection
  Angela Andrews —Read here

So what was chemo like?
  Heather Cameron —Read here

Public health campaign
  Erik Kennedy —Read here

Sanatorium
  Wes Lee —Read here

ONLINE ONLY

The avlusion of her heart
  Celia Coyne —Read here

 

HYPOCHONDRIA
Elizabeth Morton

We hypochondriacs finger each other’s nodules
like lovers, count spine-knots, freckles, 
calliper the bloat of our bellies. 

 You wear your disease to parties like a
favourite frock, rub menthol on rib-skin, 
and calamine on knees. 

 You recount specialists like old flings, 
their gelid fingers, wedding rings that scrape
against the bristling of a nipple. 

 I have been trying to be the better cripple. 
My bedsores are full-bloom, my spittle, salted. 
My halitosis speaks for itself. 

 Where you twitch, I convulse. 
Where you palpitate, I myocardial infarct. 
My hunch is formulated. The sway in my swagger  

is a stand-alone act. There is no time out. 
We monitor our love; scrapbook STIs, 
grope marks, Karma Sutra for aged hips. 

 In slumber, we play possum – sleep with one
eye open, one finger on our pulse, 
wait for tumours to lay their eggs

 inside our chests, for carcinomas to unfurl, 
cautious as flowers, inside our breasts. 
There is no time out. I am the better cripple.  

I can outrun the light at the end of the tunnel. 

 

TREATMENTS
Elizabeth Morton

1.

my head is full of hammers.
i am a blunt instrument.
my vision is laddered, like
a stocking. through peepholes
i recognise the outline
of a chair, a doorway.
a child in the corner
of the room sucks the
counters of an abacus.
but i can't see that.
i am doggy paddling away
from myself. and when you are
here i will be everywhere else.

2.

i want to screw my captors.
they lay me down like a goat
and all i can see are the
sea creatures in my eye juice,
pixels of grey.
they administer the cure
into my left buttock.
and i pray that i will not
behold the white light
at the end of the tunnel.
and i pray that i will not
behold the white light.

3.

i am the sky. i'm afraid
i will swallow all the birds.
blind, i gulp the silence
for inklings. somebody has
turned on all the lights
in my head. the white light
crushes my thoughts into
straight lines. everything
is oxygen and photons.
i could drown but i'm a
swimmer. i am doggy paddling
away from myself.

4.

my head is full of hammers.
they lay me down like a goat.
blind, i gulp the silence
for inklings. i am a blunt
instrument. all i can see
are the sea creatures in my
eye juice. somebody has turned
on all the lights. i am sky.
behold the white light.
my vision is laddered and
everything is oxygen.
they administer the cure.

 

THE PROFESSOR OF ANATOMY INTRODUCES MAC
Kerrin P. Sharpe

the professor of anatomy introduces Mac
first through the shock absorbers
on both heel and arch
as the place where he ran
to school and grew strength

and further explains how Mac’s
voluntary and opposing tendons
hauled the great nets at Raumati

notice he counsels
where the air drawn into the lungs
inspired orchids so the elastic

fibres of his arteries
grew a glasshouse
draw this with care

to show how hard Mac worked
illustrate his central nervous
system and as you record

this sequence you’ll find
Kit Dara Cathie
Ephra
 in the muscles of his heart


FRANCIS IT'S TIME WE TALKED ABOUT THE DOUBLE HELIX
Kerrin P. Sharpe

and how your ladder
insists I disappear
when I write

even with your hand on my back
I’m a lost tribe even though
I wear the social fabric

of saffron robes and sleep
in the crick of your
c-c-code
there is nothing more

than my voice in the room
mornings I eat knitted fish
evenings I shoot dna

in this distant place
of heredity francis
you cannot take the circus

out of the elephant
not after death not
after anything

 

VITAL SIGNS
Kerrin P. Sharpe

though our engines
can be restarted
at a time later than given

we still remember
an awareness of falling
and talk about the sound

of moving forward in darkness
or was it the light?
like trespassers we cannot

open the gate unless invited
and only this rejection
can give us back

the vital signs surgeons
recognise as life even now
someone in the valley

shouts here I am doc!
and this research begins
Alf remembers nothing

the railway tracks
CPR his broken ribs
now he wears a pouch

so the hospital can watch
his heart think
now he reads the paper faster

 

A NEUROSURGEON COLLABORATES WITH HIS DREAMS
Kerrin P. Sharpe

I open the frontal lobe
and notice a tumour
deep in the cloth of the brain

                 *

its weight still surprises me

                 *

the cerebrum
is a cerebral hemisphere
of grey and white

                 *

the geography
of the Broca’s
and Wernicke’s area
is often distorted

                 *

an EEG tells
half the story
midnight is a distant country
the near side of sunlight

                 *

in this space
I hear neurons
talk to neurons
I hear endorphins
control pain

                 *

like all maps every brain is a compromise
perhaps only dreams
share the voice of wakefulness

 

    
TANGIHANGA
Sarah Maindonald                                                                                   

They encircled us
black leather clad
Falcon at the ready

Necklace of bruises
sped his farewell

Black birds
circled his grave

he leapt, where
two oceans
wrestle

with one squeeze
of her thighs

Hine nui
sucked him into eternity.

 

NERVOSA     
Sarah Maindonald                  

I can see her scream
I hear her in the corner, curled

she punches her ears
gouges her wrists

tastes his sourness  
burns her mouth with bleach

imprisoned in her cage of bones
the hurtling violet spins her

upside down,
if she squints,
the light splinters

 

HER BRAIN
Hannah Coombridge

There’s not a lot left there,
the old place is barely recognizable.
Cracks interrupt the majestic vaulted ceiling
while loose bricks and rubble litter the stairs.
The hallway leads to unhinged doors
hanging precariously ajar;
wonderful playgrounds for spiders,
though even they have moved on.

The front room hasn’t been used in years.
Once-crimson drapes are pinned permanently back,
their dull tones offsetting untouched china
preserved behind their stained-glass shield.
A prized mahogany chaise proudly holding centre-stage
lies abandoned, forgotten.
Its moth-bitten upholstery sagging with the weight
of nothing.

I am entranced, marvelling at the scene.
Dust coats every surface and still cannot find place to rest.
The air is thick with it
dancing in the soft light penetrating dirt-smudged panes of glass.
Something bangs in the room across the way
and the window is exposed. Stripped bare
of wooden shutters whose dry and fragile frames,
beaten and battered by time, have lost grip.

As I sit here contemplating what lies before me;
I am overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it all.
White is the colour of the day; not Spanish white,
Cerebral Infarction white.
But somehow through the grimy passage
a tiny flicker of recognition lights up her eyes.
It’s faint, and fleeting,
but it’s enough to know that she hasn’t left yet.

Not yet

 

THE BODY TALKS
William Sherborne

Red blood cells rush through veins.
White blood cells
seal cuts.
Bones make fresh blood
and you just walk
and play
with your cells
and bones
doing their jobs.
Your brain learning
and talking
to neurons
and you do your job.

 

INHERITANCE
Johanna Emeney

The last thing my mother
got from her real mother
was a sentence:
I am your mother
(dressed up as a visiting aunt)then a punishment
for repeating the sentence
to her ‘mother’:
Auntie said she is my mother—

Then silence.

But was proof positive
posthumous,
with letters that came
some fifty years later:
ER/PR–Her2+
is the classification
of your tumour
defined by immunohistochemistry.

She received
that particular sentence
loud and clear.

 

FRIEND BEQUEST (FROM A MODERN CAD)
Emily Adam

I am vein
I am art-
er I ole.
They read me as they would Facebook;
Fingers track my spine,
Just like they scroll through the newsfeed.
I can’t hear them-
As no hair have I.
I like to think I am thick skinned;
But their ribbing
(Because I appear caged)
Is not gentle.
Their Comments on my Profile,
Cut me
Strip me
Preserved
(In cyberspace).
They are superficial,
Tongue and cheek they are,
But they will delve deeper
To stalk my history further down:
I had a heart attack as-
They have come to (the) real eyes
(A shin?)
I am just ‘Like’
Any body

 

WHEEL OF FORTUNE
Greg Judkins

When you go with a list of four problems
But the doctor has time for just two,
When you’ve scraped up his fee for a month
And there’s barely any money for food

   How does it feel to be bound to a wheel
   In a life as surreal as a circus?

When the bruise on your face is less painful
Than the shame of which you can’t speak,
When the doctor just offers you Panadol
And then asks you if you still smoke

   How does it feel to be bound to a wheel
   In a life as surreal as a circus?

When you ask for a letter for WINZ
To repair your old washing machine,
When you need an advance on your welfare
And he stares at you, sighs and agrees

   How does it feel to be bound to a wheel
   In a life as surreal as a circus?

When you wanted to talk of depression
But the kids scream and fight in the corner,
When the din makes it hard to be heard
So you mention instead your sore shoulder

   How does it feel to be bound to a wheel
   In a life as surreal as a circus?

 

SIMPLE FIRST AID
Hannah Coombridge

A        B        C
Airway,     Breathing,     Circulation.

Airway:
0.5 occluded. Thick with lacrimal fluid that could not escape quickly enough despite its steady stream flowing at maximum capacity from both the nose and eyes.

Breathing:
Ragged. Choked with sobs that rack her entire body and interrupt desperate contractions of the diaphragm. Even employment of every single accessory intercostal muscle fails to sooth the horrible gasping of someone drowning in a sea too deep and dark to navigate.

Circulation:
Sporadic. At best. Haphazard beats cause an unnatural tide to ebb and flow around the body. I sit nervously, waiting in anticipation for the next life giving surge.

Where do I begin?

… I don’t, I can’t
There is no guideline, no flow chart, no formula.

I sit

 

RSI
Amber Read

Muscles trace memory: supinate, pronate, abduct, adduct, flex, extend. Sensate choreography.
Look down; the limbs are static. Crystalline fire lurks.
You’re awake, motion cripples.

 

MEDICAL MIRACLES
Johanna Emeney

A small sample
of my mother
in wax
is winging its way
back from the UK
to be tested
for faulty genes
that might have
got to me
by other means.

One day,
one decade,
this block
(not my property,
and certainly
no longer her/s)
might be spliced
and grafted
onto the spines
of knockout mice
and grown
into a batch
of tiny mothers.

I’d have to
find that lab—
perhaps, as a pensioner
in animal protestor
camouflage—
break in
and fill my pockets
with little ladies
atop white rodents

with whom
I would escape
into the darkness
to start my own
family circus.

 

DISSECTION
Angela Andrews

I paid no attention to her care.

Didn't think, then, about the person

who laid her out, who put her

away at the end of each day

that much smaller. Not to mention

the boat, her parched and panting

desperate to drink. There's me

on the bank of the river

in a crowd of onlookers.

They point out something in the distance.

I hold her coin behind my back.

 

SO WHAT WAS CHEMO LIKE?
Heather Cameron

If I allow myself to see the thorns
of this thicket bush I am in,
their pink nails will grow beyond my control,
and this strange stabbing world I inhabit
will become all that I know, and am known by.

I pace. I pace.
Walking might help the toxins move through your body.
I sit. I sit.

You will need to rest and let the chemo do its work.
I lie in the bath. Floating. Floating.
My body lies just beneath the surface of this gentle sea.
My mind sails beyond all that you have laid before me.

The poisons sweep my landscape,
attack the good, the bad and the ugly, in true heroic style.
Become a flaming bush of thorns - my own thicket of hell.

3 days and it passes.
3 weeks and the mantra steadies me as I go.
I welcome this healing medicine into my body.
And the toxic flood begins again,
as I sight the thicket world ahead.

I know this place -
This life-saving hell you send me to
with a smile and a cheery word.

Please know me beyond these borders.
Please remember who I am.
A fervent whisper, as much to myself as to you,
as I enter my thorny-thicket hell.

 

PUBLIC HEALTH CAMPAIGN
Erik Kennedy

With pigs and the midday sun
and koalas and chlamydia,
education is key.

Discourage risky behaviour.
Reward caution and sense.
Display all the facts

where they’re easy to see and consult
and hope for the best.
How hard can it be?

Even brute intelligence
can catch upon the facts,
like the light on an axe.

Publish the information.
If they can learn to read,
maybe so can we.

 

SANATORIUM
Wes Lee

I dreamed of a sunlounger and time.
Mostly time.
Time in the nurse’s long walk
back from the pond.
The brilliance of the stations.
The brilliantine doctor,
his scrape of hair
and time
in his eyes.
His glasses that seem to reflect time back,
bouncing off
each mahjong tile.
Silence in a room,
no clocks
but so much time
for a blanket
or that first slow walk
lifting the neck,
a full sun tilt.
The possibility of swimming
in the sea
or taking a train,
of a skip before stepping up
to the platform.

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