X Ray

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: White Coat Purple Coat: Collected Poems 1948-1988 (Penguin Putnam Inc., 1994)
More Poems by Dannie Abse