A Physician Refuses to Palliate HimselfAnne Hay

George Rae, Edinburgh, 1645

I shroud myself with my cloak, black waxed,
fix on my beak stappit with juniper, rose,
ambergris, camphor, cloves, myrrh, storax.
I’ve given up asking why me? I diagnose,
burst buboes to drain pus, jag with a red
hot poker to cauter. Unlike my peers, I’ll not
waste my breath in prayers to appease a god.
I’ve seen sinners live, innocents rot.

In a matter of time, I’ll succumb.
You ask, why don’t I flee this Sisyphean task?
My habit of doctoring, offering balm.
On my walk home, I drop my mask,
trace a line from Plough to Pole Star,
breathe in emptiness, breath out fear.

Anne Hay