The Medical Phialswritten by
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THE MEDICAL PHIALS
On page 31 of the autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, the author says of the field slaves that "They would sometimes sing using the most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone..." In keeping with this tradition, I have chosen the lyric mode for the following staves despite their occasionally somewhat somber subject matter.
Behold, all is not
just the futility of a mortal fate -
merely outrageous fortune's anguish -
for God has created the saintly Doctor!
And Lo, the learned physician
brings a tape for the typing
to one of his faithful transcriptionists,
the sniffling, hunched, 300-pound Mildred,
swathed in her threadbare Republican coat,
numbly clicking her greasy keyboard,
greenly aglow in the monitor light,
sitting at one of the tiny wood desks
where she and her countless cohorts are cramped
in the cellar of a modern medical center
to squat in a cold dank windowless room
under a crackling fluorescent hum,
to be zombified by a drawer-full of pills
graciously prescribed for her
by the gentle, the learned, compassionate doctor.
What tale is dumped in her unwitting ears,
what Latin phonemes of Freudian jargon,
what sordid saga pours out of her fingers?
Al was a soldier, endured the late war,
learned to take orders, care nothing for pain,
neither his own nor what he caused others -
his is the story the doctor has dictated,
Al was the man on the analyst's couch.
Out of the Army, Al'd set up in business,
back in the eighties when Yuppies took over -
unionized shops then in large part were out-sourced,
office staffs down-sized, jobs sent to agencies,
wages were halved and all benefits cut.
(All who protested were swiftly locked up -
men were aplenty, unprincipled, honor-less,
men to build jails, or wear badges and guns,
lunatics newly arrived from the battlefield.)
Alan, it seems, had a recurring dream
which petrified him three nights a week:
he's at the payroll one Friday night late
when suddenly CRASH! - his door's kicked inward -
'n' there in the splinters stands spiral-eyed Jacques -
he who for years had been Al's docile typist,
'til only last year he'd been scheduled for home-work,
brought in his lap-top for memory upgrade,
telling Al's engineers, "Burglars broke in,
jambed up my floppy-port, I couldn't download.
Ten years of manuscripts live on my C-drive,
just don't erase them when adding your programs.
Maybe the prospect of working alone
addled poor Jacques 'til his wits went askew,
maybe the decades transcribing harsh prose
of pain 'n' disease cracked his poor poet's heart.
Anyway, soon he was given to muttering,
Evil, creepy, rotton people,
Ev'rybody should attack one -
Quacks and soldiers in a heap'll
Rot - 'n' who would mourn to lack one?
Two days of this. Al summoned Jacques
to inner office meeting - 'twas
a hot June morning. 'N' there was youthful
'super, Millie, who was to move down in rank
as she moved up in age and weight. There too
was bull-neck Joe, Security, ol' Army pal of Al's.
In brief, Al notifies then Jacques
that drive which held his manuscripts
was missing - stolen, seemingly -
when thieves broke in a few days back -
and for his rude vituperations
Jacques was now to be let go,
sans job, sans poems, sans sev'rance pay,
sans unemployment benefits!
Jacques went berserk - him Joe subdued,
'n dragged him off to whacko ward,
where they had recently resumed,
(despite proscribing plebiscite),
the practice of shock therapy.
'Twas one year since these obsequies
when Al's bad dream began its run:
Jacques' wraith, blue-templed, glare a-spin,
this sheaf of verse in hand,
comes crashing through Al's door,
his late-night calculations to disturb
by reading these weird words:
The Medical Phials
Note: This is all that remains of patient's
Medical Files, who absconded with the moiety
when he left against medical advice. It consists
in a portion of his Psychiatric Chart, i.e., an
Occupational Therapy "Writing Assignment." The
patient was asked to describe, (addressing his
girl friend, another clerk in the Transcription
Unit where this therapy took place), the events
leading up to his incarceration on 5150 - before
he was brought in by Sergeant James Smith.
Further inquires may be addressed to:
St. Lorca's Psychiatric Infirmary
for Veterans of Domestic Rebellion
Attn: Medical Records
“Is there any reason why after all these difficulties we should be subjected in this particular humiliating manner.” from “Into the Shandy Westerness”
To William Carlos Williams By Kenneth Rexroth
Some future things I wish
I'll call "I-would's" or "I'd's" -
Like win so sweet a dish,
hopes taken oft for rides -
but sometimes new euphoria
bode her best-dreamt utopia.
Some future things I plan
I'll call "I-will's" or "I'll's,"
selecting verbs a man
resolves on with kind wiles
to activate the maybe strange,
but braver, objects he'd arrange.
Since "make you," once of "I'd's,"
when willed, occurred no end,
in joy's recall it bides
and "I'll's" is "be your Friend."
Since "I'll's" erewhile was "swim two miles,"
let's say no more now's "swim tomb" "I'll's."
We swam not in pool sports
nor sulfur hot spring's cure,
but in-out facing ports
of sunken sepulcher -
Oh we would no trips trans-crypt shun,
and let no death slow transcription.
Who says pity must rue
guilt, being thus rung dry?
Our empathy is due
to everyone: but why
not save more time for needs of you,
and give more to the healthy too?
Since graves cannot contain
us, who's distracted by
farthest limit of pain?
Weak pain, with death, must die -
their pity yet remains intact
who haven't for compassion lacked.
The only thing is that -
it's not just time they rob
who sport a boss's hat:
what arrogance to fob
so very simplistic a job
on such as us, once pulled's our fob,
These doctors cannot be
concerned with much but selves -
sure not Humanity -
to strap such sterling elves
by fingers, feet and ears so late
before these screens that radiate.
I know I seem to grouse -
my fate many expect -
but when, around the house
reclining, I reflect
how cheaply we are all made glad,
I've got to feel a little bad.
But still, keep up your hopes -
for prob'ly soon one day
the man who too long mopes
like this again just may
go blithely mad like ancient bards -
take on the bosses, or their guards!
(O physician's minion,
I've grown of this opinion:
If you - although, like me,
their slave - once saw that I'd lost it,
and from the source of all their shit
I'd striven to exact
an over-long delayed
but just revenge, you'd act
as though of you I'd made
an enemy - or as though you'd
these docs with sudden charms endued.
Though sometimes minds that hum
about in Wizard Season
enrapt with ease become,
judge foolish all but reason,
and then confront our bodies' ills
with wildly analytic wills -
yet others, joys bewitch -
delight in combination;
to dream new worlds they itch,
replete with toleration -
to turn receptive openness
towards opposites' forgivingness.
Guard, suppliant to gods
of Force, enamored with
their courage, even odds
I give your kin and kith -
true hearts and minds most real
more hurt than help your powers feel.
Of gunsels charging, then -
to ambush, from the rear,
outnumbered, unarmed men -
I beard a private fear
at any lone, foolhardy whim -
though you can't love Patrolman Jim.
And though I'll teach the quack
some day, we'll brave the pigs -
lets hotter passions' smack
taste here - start learning jigs -
lest our perturbed asides too gripe
from poems to dancing girls who type.)
One's frisking's epic free-
whereof, danseuse, I fall
as short as some of bravery
that equally helps all -
let them and me at last confess:
You more than any do - with less -
who listen, static'ly,
abstracting folks' disease -
glissade so concretely
then healthy us to please -
your carefree sensuosity
I had a dream that we
were working early one
mid-Saturday, though free
that afternoon at 1:00 -
at harried call some surgeon made
you over to the files sashayed.
You did not seem to see
my patience fin'ly spent;
you smiled indulgently,
disdained admonishment -
I pulled the Sony tape machine
out of my smashed computer screen!
Arm leaning on a breast-
high file-card cabinet,
your fingertips caressed
the handles in it set.
At that, the office scene descried
is suddenly transmogrified:
The cab'net where you leant
becomes a mossy stump;
up half-stripped bark there bent
his way from out a clump
of green wastebasket turning shrub
a squirrel your careful fingers rub.
Typewritten letter white
that lies on that white desk -
its wriggling letters quite
transform, to arabesque
of fuzzy caterpillars turn,
flee 'cross a boulder, and us spurn.
A coat-rack branches sprouts
when we at it look up;
from one desk-rock there spouts
a font with no let-up,
where writhing dazzle disappears
along with bowl of goldfish tears.
The office walls are gone;
computer bank becomes
low scarp of forest lawn,
the honeybee there hums.
The keyboard patter's antic frogs
that leap away on hollow logs.
The printers disappear.
Woodpeckers in the trees
stop eating, leave the ear
to fly away in vee's
across the August morning sky
the ceiling fades to by and by.
The surfaces of file,
of desks, then soften, scored
in long thin strips that, while
turn leaf, peal outward toward
fluorescent sunbeams - rippled grass
blades curl on hillocks where we pass.
Your squirrel bolts, then you,
through spinney glen, by tor,
up rill of gleeful blue
go caprioling o'er
the mead - then, stumbling, I - who chance
have none to run like you can dance.
Across the copse we fly.
I don't catch up until....
Upon the beach you lie,
and taken have your fill
of bitter walnuts o'er the swirl
of lakey seiche - and fed your squir'l.
(Though memory can't find
the place we came upon,
five dreams recur to mind,
the times I stumbled on
this shore of undulating sands -
approaching, then, from northern lands.)
But now your eyes me fix
in charms of magic sleep,
of slumber number six
you bring from somewhere deep -
and me recall unwitting find
of vengeance quests time out of mind.
(For Moera's brother's fall,
she gave the reptile all
the death Tylon was smitten
with; ice-heart, its scaly mate,
both snake and man recalled from fate.)
Now that we're here, awake,
on shore of satin sands
that rings this olive lake,
I gently part our hands,
and say, "I have a tale for you
explaining what I'm here to do.
When, intuition's thing,
I came - but who knows how? -
of logic's stock, to sing -
for friendship's sake to bow
to reason only insofar
as needs to prove I too could star
in mathematic thought -
that done, resuming art,
the nearest way I sought
from family to part -
to world of somewhat worse regrets,
and Manichean martinets.
My fondness for the word
they put to their own use -
to typing their absurd
reports - and this abuse
I'd counter, spending each hour free
in college, reading poetry.
I gave to honor less
than half what I'd vowed, won
tuition, (though I guess
I knew, once learning's done,
I would again some wilds embrace,
and courage once more thought replace).
Since weekday morning, each,
now doctors had me type,
my academic reach
could not quite con the hype
for A's - on my Professor's desk
my B brain pulsated grotesque.
Enrapt and frustrate years -
'til final loans ran out,
and came true my worst fears:
full forty hours, about -
now freedom inspiration knows -
each week's usurped by medicos....
You turn to me and bid,
"Get back inside your trance!
What you recalled you did,
reminded by my dance,
I now convoke you do once more:
the doctor's corpse retrieve, restore!
For here once temblor razed
a ridge, then bade this lake
her finger thrust where glazed-
eyed dead vacation take,
(as none could have been over wary
when that quake drowned their cemetery)."
I say, "I'll realize
this ancient dream of mine;
as soon as I am wise,
give each successive line
or act your spells show my charmed will -
wait here as from yon rock I spill."
"You wait," was your reply.
"I'm in the dream this time,
remember?" Then with sly
aplomb, as up I climb,
you say you'll trust me not to hoot
at your pink underwear swimsuit.
Through wat'ry arch we flew
in tomb of old Doc Jones,
from vault his casket drew,
up floated with his bones,
it swam to shore, up beach it slid,
broke rusty locks, turned back its lid.
As quickly you arise,
back over to the rock
from which we dove, your eyes
gone briefly wide with shock -
"Yes, get our clothes," I say -
and to my work I turn away.
"Less sunken of physique,
recurrent friend. No nose.
Left eye rolled down your cheek -
but we know it's all pose!
Your long dream's secrets you won't keep:
You robbed my time, I'll steal your sleep."
With this, I stand and walk
to where you wait. "They're soon
addressing trees, who talk
to dead men," you then croon.
"No, girl - my shirt, the phial - instead,
this one's stay's fleeting 'mongst the dead.
These shards are glaucus grass
with which Tylus, deprived
by poison snake, alas,
of life, was then revived
by Moera - for, when she thus found
her brother laid out on the ground
She'd giant Damsen crush
the culprit serpent - then
she saw another rush
in, leave, return again -
this grass, or "Flower of Zeus" to lay
on its mate - saw both wind away.
The myths proceed one way:
the revenant may be
a general, or may
be mad young hunter, he
who shuns desire - to save whom takes
a mortal doc or god, the grass, two snakes."
My glaucus blades I pour
on this cadaver cold.
It gradual but sure
congealing we behold,
decay's reverse speed quickly up.
We see an old man, just ere cup
of life's drained, lying there;
one's corpse who's newly dead
at long life's close - thin hair
adorns its pale head -
but sweeter scents the breezes wreathe -
and then the body starts to breathe.
The saur'an looking thing,
a skein of wrinkles small,
with wail that might appall
companions left beyond the pale -
then raspingly begins to rail:
"Argh, not this time - but stay,
fast melting dream of bliss! -
yet no, joy's stol'n away....
Again I wake to this -
Must you begrudge me death's escape
'cause once, in life, you typed my tape?"
"That once I - twenty years,
each week, five days your drudge
was eight hours made appears
quite ample cause to grudge -
though crowds of thralls you thus abuse.
You claim compassion - what a ruse!
This little witch here, though,
has danced my wits away.
A dream I seem to know
I've had before today
she charms me to enact - which all,
at Lethe's draught, fled your recall.
This phial I here produce
gold-glist'ning in the sun
is concentrated juice,
from Greeks Beyond-the-North-Wind land.
Drink this to quick-reverse time's sand."
Then in an arm I grip
His ancient head; he can't
resist as o'er his lip
the liquor I decant.
"Watch him," I say. "This won't long last -
slow Merlin youthened, he more fast,
(who took my years for back-
ward copying pain's tale -
I felt like an old hack.
So now I do not fail
to take his death, to make him feel
as old - then back up years to reel!)"
Slow peel the films of time
away, his flesh then firms;
the skin, as in his prime
his eyes' bright glow, the vibrant air
in young Doc Jones' now thick dark hair.
Unlike my other dreams,
this one - 'tis strange - won't slake
my thirst for justice; seems
less willed now - that, to take
revenge for which I'm feeling loath -
retarding my artistic growth.
"I won't let you, the while
Instead, of one more phial
now taste, no more to fear
the years. A dozen score ago
The Comte de St.-Germain, you know,
from India did this
elixir bring a friend
of Casanova. Kiss
a drop. There. Thus we end
all aging's backward change - or for-.
Look twenty-seven evermore!"
Out reaches Doc Jones' hand
and grips the coffin's side.
He vaults onto the sand,
intones with haughty pride,
"Though always doctor bosses nude
have artists in their undies rued,
yet we have ev'ry right -
who long forwent the joys
of friendship, freedom, night,
our books our only toys -
to ask the help, howe're chagrined,
of characters less disciplined."
"I've cracked as many tomes
as you - they do not make
me want a slave, those poems -
not they made me back take
your life in erstwhile vengeance dreams -
(in this make that seem too extreme)."
I watch him gape at you
there breathing in your bra;
your smile I take in too,
its secretive hurrah.
Your eyes flash glints of knowing glee
from languorous opacity.
"Remembrance thus returns,"
the doctor then observes.
"Though body newly burns,
with life - but this times swerves -
and final phial him he'd revive
gives one who'd death-darts the first five? -
Yet you can't know with what
delight I welcomed death's
return when, your last hot
indignant words and breaths
of signs determined being done,
you sped my years with your dart gun.
A life's not long enough
to find out much at all -
I'd barely learned the stuff
to start - and then the call
of strange mortality. Who'd guess
I'd wake - but now for good, though - yes?"
"For good," I then aver.
"My rage's mania
is rapt away by her....
of whose fruits one's juice these darts tip,
I nevermore shall make the trip.
And you will have again -
though always looking young -
the same life-span as when,
six decades past, you hung
your shingle out for all to see:
Josiah Alvin Jones, M.D."
He says, "I'll live then, be
in time enough, for real -
as one whom none who see
think older than I feel -
long-sating mind in body new -
with second chance to know, to do!
One thing I would, though, change:
when last I was this age
I couldn't soon arrange
the fancy to engage
of earthy sylph with luscious face -
my Prof. touched not on social grace."
Into the doctor's eyes
you gaze, his wistful grin
upon - and, bending, rise
with em'rald phial thin
from pocket in your sandy skirt.
Your voice seems both to sing and flirt:
"You hardly need have been
reluctant, though, since there
are many nymphs whose yen
at any time's to share
their transports sweet with demigod
who's trod on toes in marble shod.
However jaded men,
there ever minxes are
to bring them love again,
or point them out their star -
when pain's great foe seems duty-bound,
delight lurks somewhere near around.
One can't retake a risk
one long ago declined
to face, but you might whisk
all sadness from your mind
with this borage tea that I've brought,
which can from health food stores be bought,
plus one ingredient
I've added, Moly called,
whose pow'rs Odysseus bent
to save mates once enthralled
by Circe when" - but Doc now drinks -
"They'd been turned swine by that god-minx."
As falls upon the sand
from Doc Jones' fingers splay
the empty tube, he pans
his stare twixt us; fast play
across his features signs of fear -
then great relief, then weary cheer.
His eyes take us both in -
"It seems that I've been blind,'
he notes with sheepish grin,
"To remedies you find
in fantasy - would do my part
that Medicine become true art."
You laugh, to me confess:
"I put that final phial
inside your shirt, no less
your vengeance to beguile,
and idyll turn your fancy dread,
than keep this doctor from the dead -
whence you have him up-woke
ere this - what, five full times? -
life's promise made and promise broke
when he'd grown young? These crimes
you now know you can't justify
by saying your job made you wry.
Although the dictator
have accent thick, be rushed,
be drunk, format ignore -
or manners - why be flushed
with rage? His patient's second try
is worth my help, who can't dance by -
therefore should merit yours,
who only lose your mind -
which, now that it occurs
to me, I've helped you find:
this morning's coffee did prepare
with waters known to banish care,
cure madness - from a well
in Scotland on an isle
in Loch Marie. They quell
the "fevered brain," and I'll
show you a poem by Whittier
concerning them - their magic's sure.
Then up the bank you dance
and glide out of our sight.
I toss the Doc my pants,
pick up our clothes - so light
his stride as we run after you
to where your spell you then undo,
the country golden-green
turn back to hospital
transcription office scene -
except you give a call
and from the hall your squirrel's nose
pokes in - he curls up at Doc's toes.
You take from your desk drawer
two phials, then up one raise.
To me you amble o'er
with mesmerizing gaze.
You lick your lips a wetter red,
pronounce, "With this we'll put to bed
your wild distraction's cause,
the nightmares that can come
when working students pause
in love, take refuge from
delight in chasing new desire -
choose joy's ignition, not her fire.
Be free of all bad dreams,
impervious to harm -
take tea that herein gleams,
and from the sun's still warm.
Of herb called Ephialtion made,
it came to Hercules' great aid
in helping gods defeat
attacking giants grim
with serpents' tails for feet.
Our doctor, though - let him
be first his treatment to conclude."
You smile, I wait - not to be rude.
Your final phial you hand
him, then you intimate,
"Your wonder's odds expand:
with grass sprinkled of late
your were revived. It's in this tea -
now drink down Immortality!
"Yes, drink," I echo then,
"And anodyne all grief
and be a god 'mongst men,
for I have found relief," -
from jacket pocket dart-gun get,
it start to throw in wastebasket -
from inner office bursts
then Sergeant Jim - gun out,
With fatal aim he worsts
your Agent d'Art. About
I'm spun, to fall on my own gun.
Its dart speeds out, doc Jones' left bun
to pierce. Then first his face
grows strangely trouble-free.
Old features, though, replace
the new - in minutes three
the seams of eighty years etch o'er
his skin - he falls dead on the floor.
"That grimace smile turns,"
you say. I nod, but tire
of sleep. My laughter thins
to yawn. When I expire
I change to wraith of bluish smoke
who silent laugh at secret joke.
Whereon a walk you take
across Doc's form - bring here
his phial, which didn't break.
But first you turn to face the leer
of that gendarme there in the door
to tell him this: "I too abhor
the mad computercide,
and yet he's nothing more:
Of old age Doc Jones died
full twenty years before."
Then over me his phial you shake
and I from dreams of death awake.