5 Dec 2013

2. Burns Unit – Heather Cam

[1955current, born Canada, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Twice daily the Nurse of the Salt Baths
worships and washes my devastation.
Then she wraps my precious body in a turban
of gauzy dressings drenched in unguents
and wheels me
like a sultan on a litter
back to the Bubble in the Burns Unit.

In the antechamber my visitors are waiting,
receiving strict instructions
to maintain the proper distance.
They shuffle in:
feet bandaged, heads covered, masked and mittened,
draped in starched hospital gowns,
shamefully aware of the burden of bacteria,
and the risk they pose to this Sterilized Zone
and to my recovery.

They hold up offerings:
cards I may not open,
flowers I may not smell,
hands I may not hold.
They hold in check the desire to see my hurt,
my singed skin.

Like desert melons after a freakish rain,
bubbles are bursting out under the bandages,
oozing sap, crusting into scabs, itching like mad,
like sand in the eyes, like sand flies –
for I must not forget, must not forget,
even I must not touch, must not rub, must not scratch.
Tense and urgent, I listen
for the rattle of the drugs trolley;
sweating for the pills that numb this healing itch.

The sweet pink pills will lie on my tongue
like a blessing
promising relief, release from my beleaguered body.
Swallowed, they will soon smudge me out;
mercifully smear me into a blur like sleep.
Where I dream

a lonely desert crossing,
a caravan in camel-slow procession,
through sand-storms and torturous dreams of houris
and the occasional oasis,
but mostly to another day of sun,
cantankerous camels,
and endless desert sands,
over which I, Suntan of the Bedouin,
ride to my healing.

Source:   Cam, H 1990, ‘The Moon’s Hook’, Poetry Australia 125, South Head Press, Sydney.

 *   Houris definition from thefreedictionary.com (5 Oct 2012): 1. A voluptuous, alluring woman. 2. One of the beautiful virgins of the Koranic paradise.

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