By Dannie Abse 1923–2014 Dannie Abse
Some prowl sea-beds, some hurtle to a star
and, mother, some obsessed turn over every stone   
or open graves to let that starlight in.
There are men who would open anything.

Harvey, the circulation of the blood,
and Freud, the circulation of our dreams,   
pried honourably and honoured are   
like all explorers. Men who’d open men.

And those others, mother, with diseases
like great streets named after them: Addison,   
Parkinson, Hodgkin—physicians who’d arrive   
fast and first on any sour death-bed scene.

I am their slowcoach colleague, half afraid,   
incurious. As a boy it was so: you know how   
my small hand never teased to pieces   
an alarm clock or flensed a perished mouse.

And this larger hand’s the same. It stretches now   
out from a white sleeve to hold up, mother,   
your X-ray to the glowing screen. My eyes look   
but don’t want to; I still don’t want to know.

Dannie Abse, “X-ray” from New and Collected Poems, published by Hutchinson. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited, http://www.randomhouse.co.uk.

Source: Poetry (February 1979).


This poem originally appeared in the February 1979 issue of Poetry magazine

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February 1979
 Dannie  Abse


The title of Dannie Abse’s collected poems, White Coat, Purple Coat (1989), refers to his lifelong professions of physician and poet. Of these careers, Abse has stated, “I like to think I’m a poet and Medicine my serious hobby.”

Considered one of the most important Welsh writers of the past century, Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to non-Welsh-speaking parents, but lived mostly in London. His poetry collections include . . .

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