#NaPoWriMo Day 2: “Doctor Death”

The prompt: “Today’s prompt is based on this poem by Claire Wahmanholm, which transforms the natural world into an unsettled dream-place. … I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that similarly resists closure by ending on a question…”

Today’s prompt had me thinking for a long time, and I must admit, I didn’t have time to write a new poem. But I’m using this project as a means of curating my poems as much as to write new ones, and so I decided, once again, to go back to an old piece.

I had written this poem, called ‘Doctor Death’, sometime in 2014/2015. At the time, I was deeply influenced by Sylvia Plath, and I think the parallels with some of her images from ‘Daddy’ are pretty obvious. But I think it also fits in with the very first part of the prompt, and Wahmanholm’s incredible poem: to transform a certain situation into a surreal, hellish landscape.

Cancer- warping worm-rose-dreams

Don’t think push down whip back the screams!

Taste the pills crushed in your teeth

Wipe mouth clasp hands please take a seat.


A crack in the breast plate blossoming breath

Smothering sweating drowning death

Retract the clamp, put the life-gas mask

Breathe Lethe-air swirling in that flask.


Hold! Blood pumps at frantic speed

Stitch up the fibres, lest the wound bleed

Staple that crack, protect the heart

Don’t let the sickening Medusa-curse start.


Wait! Stick that needle in

Let the sweet drug bubble in the bloodstream

Let the knife-pain be dulled away

Keep the pitch-fork noise at bay.


There… the black tunnel stretches on

No light no sound no angel-song

Just hammer blood crashing in your ear

Just clenched lung squeezing back your fear.


There… the wind soothes your skin

The sweat freezes, goosebumps set in

A soft white orange wrapping glow

You can breathe in peace, you can let your heart grow.


Thud! They beat back the beating heart

Shove a tube down, force my throat apart

Drag me back out from the cool dark space

Gasping, squeaking, to run the pig-race.


They laugh and lead a tribal dance

White coats flapping in grotesque stance

Re-alive me cries a new death

While they string me around with marionette breath.

This was the image I had in my mind while writing the poem: the ghosts’ dance from Satyajit Ray’s 1969 children’s classic movie, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.

Day 2 b.jpg

Thank you for reading!

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