By: Danie Botha
It is our innate sense of curiosity that makes us root for the underdog; we are fascinated by rags to riches tales and have little trouble associating with a cherry-cheeked shepherd-boy, slaying a giant—even if our name isn’t David.
It is much easier and safer to escape on such epic journeys and grand adventures employing a titillating novel, a fable, a heart-wrenching poem, or a work of literary fiction than to do so in real life.
Daily, it is required of us to slay our personal giants—irrespective of age, sex, or creed.
Often, we succeed in doing so. However, some giants are stronger, growing seven heads.
And still, the battle, the journey of faith and bravery is what matters more—how pain and suffering and struggling transform people, how it changes all those involved—touching hearts, changing lives—also that of the caregivers.
Having practiced medicine for more than three decades has given me numerous opportunities to walk alongside such brave souls, patients, individuals, who had to face their Goliaths. In the majority of cases, the giants got slain. Irrespective of the outcome—one has been blessed with witnessing and becoming part of such heroic personal battles—when the little warriors refused to back down, declined to give up hope till the very end.
It is a profoundly humbling experience when the healer, together with the patient, face death, knowing a cure is no longer an option. It is not a failure and demands bravery from the ill, and compassion from the other to walk down the valley of the shadow of death, one final time.
The two poems, “Caught in a Gutenberg Press” and “Hands”, are narrative renditions of such epic battles, fought daily by countless brave individuals. It is dedicated to each one of them.
Caught in a Gutenberg Press
Instructions in spite: ‘no preparations
required, no need to be fasted,’ I
did the polar opposite—fasted in
solidarity. My God, the musical
rhythm, the sweet-sounding word still choked in
my throat: mammogram—reward for being
female and far over forty (not the
slightest fat!) Listening to her monotone:
her questions about being pregnant or
feeding by breast a compliment. Strip down
to the waist, no bra, bodice or blouse, here’s
a wrap and stand still, we’ll do top to bottom
then side to side, as if instructed to
place my carry-on in the bin and push
it on rollers toward the customs’ scanner.
The point of discussion was my beloved
bosom (my pert little breasts) to be caught
in a Gutenberg Press. Go slower I
squealed, it hurts, shivering in semi-
nudity, spectator at my own one-
man show: mesmerized as my breasts turned into
bookstands, keep still she reprimanded, before
converting the pride of my youth into
double LPs, first the left then the right,
unable to hide my brimming eyes I
waved at the female mammography
practitioner about the pain and cold,
and my fear about the findings, it’s
almost done she droned on and on at why
my carry-ons went back into the customs’
secret scanning box, as I begged for mercy
on tip-toes hanging by blanched nipples
while X-ray machine hummed with nonchalance.
the accidental brush of hands (that first time) made you jump,
fuming at my impertinence (you called it)—your indignation: brightest rose,
surpassed only by your parted lips. I should have walked away. Kissed you instead.
The wheal of cross-cheek fingers lasted all of twenty-seven hours. How dare you?
spewed your lips; your eyes opposed the motion, reeled me in.
I should have walked away.
for twenty-seven days, you wouldn’t take my calls or see me. When you did our hands
(of their own accord) took flight, hesitant, silly, single-stringed kites, darting diamonds till you snapped the line. Don’t rush you mouthed, your eyes, however, begged, please stay. And stayed I did. We marveled at my span of hands—covering your firm-held fists (years later, also jutting breasts); your slender fingers laced with mine, fingers trained to till the soil, hold a brush, adjust a microphone, suckle child without a blush, make music with a flute, be lover—’twas a hoot!
Should I have walked away?
for twenty-seven years you woke me with those hands, cupped my face, kissed my eyes and ears and lips—prostrated front to front, breast to breast, laced fingers, limbs, and loins. A love that buoyed and bound and healed and drowned all pain. Until one day, your fingers found a lump that stayed—denial first—‘twas so futile. And thus, began our fretful journey. Your loving fingers used to lace with mine, white-knuckled on examination tables, while foreign fingers (cold to touch) palpated, probed and poked—forgetting to inquire how you felt.
I could never walk away. Rest you hand, here, on my cheek.
for twenty-seven weeks they tested, trialed, tomographed—as long it took the tumor to get rated, while we, for all, but waited. Now, our laced-together hands seek merely certainty. Serenity. Scalpels circumcised your wounded chest, cut away your breathless breasts, (you wept, I mourned my little friends.) In synchrony, poison poured through ports from plastic bags, killing uninvited guests as well as haze the host. We prayed, believed and hoped on healing. If no cure, we’d settle for remission. How brave are those who bargain. Brazen. Bold. O, God!
Rest your hand here on my cheek—one more time
a second twenty-seven weeks was all it needed, wringing the life ‘twas left from you. And yet, you never ceased to reach, cup my face and rest your hand on either cheek. Each accidental brush (like the first time) made me jump, clasping moments, memories, repeat your name. Unspoken longing, words our lips not dared, our eyes would speak and sing. You warned me it was time, your hands much cooler, unable for a final reach. Lacing fingers, I leaned closer. My love. My Love. I love you mouthed your parted lips. Your soul already soaring.
Rest your hand here on my cheek – one last time.
BIO: Danie Botha
Danie Botha was born in Zambia. It’s true that they could watch the hyenas at night from their hostel bedroom windows.
He completed his school education and medical training in South Africa.
Canada has been called home for the past 20 years. He has published three novels.
He also writes short stories, poetry, and blogs at https://daniebotha.com about storytelling and writing as healing.
He draws and paints and is a fitness enthusiast.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
If you’d like to enter the Writing Prompt Contest, here are the guidelines. Not us for a contest, but still want to submit your how-to for the blogger or writer, short fiction, personal essay, or poetry? Then consider a guest post today.
You’ll get an additional platform for your writing and our readers will get the gift of your words.