The consultation

Doctor will see you now,

Mr X, mystery man

with your mysterious disease.

Ah! Mr  X.

do please

come in,

sit down.

And how long have you felt like this?

To tell the truth

I’ve never felt so well, to tell

the truth to tell

there’s nothing wrong at all!

But all the same,

you do look pale and rather overwrought.

Lowers his tone,

sits forward in his chair and becomes

more forthright,

inviting confidence.

It’s not uncommon, time of life, you know,

and, dare I say it,

if I had a pound for everyone

who came to me like this,

I would be rich.


(Speaks behind his hand)

There's something that he does not wish to say,

or hear.

What’s in a name?

(Makes a decisive note)

I will prescribe some pills.

We need to run some tests;

send samples to the lab.

Then monitor results

when they come in we’ll know a thing or two.

It can’t  be rushed.

It all takes time.

Roll up your sleeve.

A herbal remedy

Take us down to our forgotten roots.

Embrace nature;

find space beside the green bay-tree.

Wear garlands in our hair.

Place ourselves in care pastoral

most natural.

Lateral thinking,

horses blinkered

chewing the bit and green and grassy breath

but clean,

as I began to say,

this laurel wreath.

Find the plant that imitates the signs,




pluck it.

I guarantee.

The green bay tree,

that has supported me so far,

stripped of its leaves.

This laurel wreath

torn down.

This laurel crown.

Laudatus est.

At the pharmacy

Now that I am on a dozen pills,

I've started to define myself by what I take.

Each cell, its tiny mouth, calls out

dextro amphetamol

or words to that effect,

absorbs its dose,

goes back to sleep.

The placebo effect

Disease placated;

pull the other one!

‘I’m pleased,’ you say.

Others, perhaps more civilised

put it this way,

It pleases me,

I am beside myself.

I raise my spirits,

table tapping,


there anybody there?’

you ask, expecting no reply

and we would have to say,

Oh yes, that help exists

indeed and looking back,

time when,

call them the Golden Days,

we rose or fell by this,

the bedside manner.

Some would hold,

that that was all we had,

but now



and I

do not presume,


and here is something you might like to know,

(looks at his watch,

there’s not much time)

It might be all illusion.


illusion’s shadow that does not itself exist.

But I can counter that.

The analgesic act

of Holy Water,

that is water forty-five percent,

or over, sanctified

and proof of God’s enduring love,

can be pharmacologically antagonised.

Quotes from two scientific papers, one of which says that there is no evidence for the placebo effect, even in pain reduction and the other shows (convincingly in my opinion) that the effect of a placebo in reducing pain can be abolished by opiate antagonists.

An immune response

Sticks and stones may break my bones,

but names and faces

never hurt me.


You think not,

try this one for size.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

and there are others, worse.

He blanched now,

keeping something back;

a lady on a milk white steed,

a tongue-tied tongue

and Mrs Robinson,

where are you

in our hour of need?

Quotes from Keats and Thomas the Rhymer, The Graduate (Mike Nichols) ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names and faces never hurt me’ is  one version of the nursery rhyme.

A manipulative technique

I am the good shepherd

and I can cure anyone

of anything. I know my sheep.

With me you make a sound investment.

Loss, loss leader, lost?

No, only gone ahead.

Good accumulates, you know, in steps.

The secret is;


I will whisper in your ear.


you say,

a most unlikely tale,

and one that no-one can repeat.

Well, to that I say,

You heard it here first.

and it comes down to this,

to letting go of what you have,

greater, a moderate amount, or less

and I will keep it for you,

see it grow.

It all comes down to this;

percentage yield.

So when the boss returns and says,

Where is it?

I want to see

what have you done

with what you had.

Then you reply,

I fell among thieves.

From the parables of  Good The Samaritan and of  The Talents.

An MRI scan

Do not think that anything,

malign or otherwise,

can remain hidden.

Magnetic force ensures

(Tesla teasing,

south seeking

pole and all)

were angel choirs to sing,

we would hear them.

We are looking for the soul,

the bottom line,

the only lived-in space. Trust me,

we will find the ghost in the machine.

It now has,

even from itself,

no place to hide.

Do not dismay.

The wide grey waste,

those billows of the restless sea,

the waves to walk on,

waves to walk beneath;

the pain-free,

feeling nothing,

feeling all.

Tesla was the great Croatian scientist whose name is given to magnetic flux density. (See The man who invented the twentieth century by Robert Lomas). The brain has no sensory nerves and hence no feeling at its surface.

Keyhole surgery

(What the butler saw)

Find a coin for the slot machine

an old one, with the words,

Ich Dien

inside the worn milled rim

The mills of God grind slow;

they ground for him.

He served.

He knew his place,

he was a member of the under class,

but felt it not.

Coarse he was,

yet all he saw was fine,


The music does not play for you my friend.

You can make the Knight’s move,

but you will not be a King.

Bathed and contemplating still pink skin,

and body odour,

vile perhaps

and yet most glorious

to a woman less refined than him,

maybe, he thought,

maybe, maybe, maybe,

I will serve my soul upon a silver salver.

Maybe the gods,

though they have climbed

upon the staircase

one step higher,

mired in their self-same bad and good,

are no more to be redeemed than us.




The Butler occupies a position that might be considered as halfway between God and Man. The Mills of God is from Sextus Empiricus, Greek philosopher.‘The music does not play for you...’ is from David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus.

Taking the waters

It’s clear enough.

I can tell you what you need.

You need the water in your cells revitalised.

They are crying,

‘It is stagnant!

It can not refresh,

nor yet be fresh again.’

You must know

that there are waters of two kinds.

Water whose essence is forever dull

and water where the freshness is unquenched.

Its chill is not derived from cold,

because there are two kinds of heat.

Our science, which goes back to ancient times,

tells us this: that temperature is two-dimensional.

The first dimension, the one you know,

or think you know, ranges from absolute cold

to utmost heat.

Its colour is red. The second,

and this comes down to us from what we call

the ‘Time Before’,

ranges from ice-cool to divine sweetness.

Its colour is blue.

Water is where they meet.

The ancient word ‘liquid’

means not more than this,

where souls condense from spirit.

And there the two kinds are determined by

which way comes first.

Some talk of toxins, we do not. To be honest

they are levering your thoughts

around a pivot of their own device.

We must get on,

this is no cheap osmotic trick,

though treatment is simplicity itself.

What does it cost? you ask,

and so you should. No,

don’t apologise,

it gives us no offence,

because we are not interested

in money

as such.

Munchhausen’s by proxy

Oh you bold Baronet

where is your crown of thorns?

You man of sorrows

seeking surgeons

to bring transient relief.

Christ crucified again

and all the Saints.

Martyrs investigating pain

that floats nine parts out of ten



and He

arranged it.

Many, thinking that

such an edifice

is insecure,

have followed Him

despite that single early warning plea.

San Sebastian,

victim of some vengeful darts-man

who has missed his double top.

Stephen, stoned,

and Catherine,

whose glad circumference enchants.

The opening comes from Betjeman’s poem Sir John Piers. The three syllables of Catherine should be given equal stress. Circumference is a word/concept often used by Emily Dickenson and intended here to share the meaning, intentional or otherwise, that she gave to it.

A second opinion

He was old

and he lived alone

and one day

some of his toes

went black

and they said,

“We must

take your leg

off at the knee.”

And he said,

“I don’t think

that you should

do that.

I don’t think

it is right.”

And they said,

“It is!

We’ll get

your sister

to spell it out.”

And they did.

And she did!

Alternative therapy

Youth and crabbed age cannot live together,

so let both take a trip to Switzerland

travelling by train and

in the morning wake

to see dawn on the Jungfrau, pink,

then high in Alpine meadows

walk on grass, sweet with yellow trefoil

and other flowers dense,

too numerous to name

and warm goat’s milk that foams

white on white snow,

Oh Uncle mine!

And now,

this day of days,

the doctor and the priest come running.

Running, they have found it out.

There’s something that they need to say.

Funiculi, funicula

they shout,

and we agree.

But first,

before they catch their breath,

lean forward,

bend the knees

and, keeping skis together,


slide gently down the slope

until the lights go out.

‘Crabbed age and youth’ is from The Passionate Pilgrim, attributed to Shakespeare. Other material is from Johanna Spyri’s Heidi and Larkin’s  Where can we live but days? Ah, solving that question brings the priest and the doctor in their long coats running over the fields. Currently Switzerland is one of the few countries where euthanasia is tolerated, if not allowed by law. Funiculi, funicula  here does not refer to the original song by Peppino Turco, but to the music by Italian composer Luigi Denza and the later version starting with the lines:-

Some think the world is made for fun and frolic,

And so do I!

And so do I!

Treating like with like

Yes, he was here.

How might you say?

He left his imprint!

Practising percussively  

to improve his potency.

Passing through many vessels.

Inconceivably diluted.

He could not cure life’s ill,

but caused another

to do it for him.

Treating like with like.  The principle of homeopathy. Medicines are prepared by diluting an active agent, often a toxin, whose actions mimic the symptoms of the disease, using a percussive mixing procedure (also called succussion). Paradoxically each dilution is said to increase the potency.


Now is the time to go

down to your Grandfather’s allotment.

See him dig there.  

Listen to the sound the spade,

pushed by the leather

(each eye strong laced pull) slow

boot, makes,

lifts then turns.

Contemplate topsoil,

for which we are truly thankful.

Grass is greener,


youth wasted on the young.

Going down,

going down,


stones then


rest there.

Calorie intake,



scratching living,

Work for idle hands to do.

Look, it’s quite strange.

Just as he had cleaned his spade, about to leave,

a neighbour came

wanting to borrow something.

What, I have forgotten.

Voice, calling in the garden.

Rules made

to be broken. Time

for a chat.

Time, time and time again.

Don’t get up to mischief now!

You can see whose son he is.

The pimpernel,

growing, scarlet,


It was going to be a nice day.


So, where are you now?

London, he said.

Oh yes, voice down,

Oh yes. Oh, Mrs Someone’s son,

you know.

He went there once.

A good man once,

but he went there,

came back

and never did a day’s work since.

We know he tasted of the fleshpots,

that is what.

Pink, voluptuous, like sea anemones

abound on rock.

So let that be a dreadful warning to you.

If you see those fleshpots there,

take care! Avoid them,

though they will reach out.



who died for us.

On the other hand,

those fleshpots I have warned you of?

Something to look for,

something to dream about?

The image here is of the dark, meat-coloured anemone, most probably the Beadlet Anemone, Actinia equina,

In remission

Spring shine morning stained glass window

Blue green leaning

asking nowhere

clouds pass

light dims

arum lily





living whiteness

golden light grows lasting ever.

In remission. The period between Easter Sunday and Ascension-tide.

In memoriam

Mr X

was a very private man.

Little is known of him

other than that he was.

And what the consequences of his life have been

are anybody’s guess.

He would have said,

X is not the one unknowable

Instead it is the certain landmark.


precision intersection

marks the spot,

the alphabetic interloper


firm, proclaims

‘you will not land upon my beaches’.




and Christmas wishes.

X alone then

might be you,

or any one of us.

Just this we know,

that Mr X,

who once was someone,

now has gone.


The soul is as unrepentant

as a ship in a bottle.

How did it get there?

Nobody knows,

but push came to shove

and suddenly

there it was.

As far as we all can tell

it isn’t going anywhere,

but one day the glass will dissolve

and then it will sail away

into the blue yonder.



1 The consultation

2 A herbal remedy

3 At the pharmacy

4 The placebo effect

5 An immune response

6 A manipulative technique

7 An MRI scan

8 Keyhole surgery

9 Taking the waters

10 Munchhausen’s by proxy

11 A second opinion

12 Alternative therapy

13 Treating like with like

14 Convalescence  

15 Relapse  

16 In remission

17 In memoriam

18 Epitaph




















The Healing of the Sick

What is a doctor’s first duty?

I don’t know, I’ve forgotten!

Adapted from the film ‘Wild strawberries’ by Ingmar Bergman

Following ‘The Silk Road’, The healing of the Sick was written as a collection, but with two interlopers, poems written earlier that appear to fit, but do not entirely satisfy the writer as belonging.