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Sue Butler



the poet

Reflecting, towards the end of her career as a General Practitioner, on the gift and the burden of intimate connection with so many lives, Sue Butler took up walking and creative writing, considering these unpredictable forms of meditation on life in all its grace, pain and peculiarity. Sue's poems have appeared in One Hand Clapping, Spelt Magazine, Poetry and Covid, the Hippocrates Prize Anthology, and the Whirlagust series from Yaffle Press – publisher of her pamphlet, Learning from the Body.

the poems

Equality for Boys

00:00 / 01:25

                                   Did his mother make him up,

                                   brush and pinch his cheeks and lips,

                                   paint him, rosy, healthy, hearty

                                   as the other boys at parties?

                                   Did they ask him if he knew

                                   his underwear was on display

                                   to girls with hormones all askew,

                                   did his armpits need a shave?

                                   Did they tell him if he tried

                                   he might just get in to medicine.

                                   Men needed to be qualified

                                   to study beside the women.

                                   Did his patients call him nurse

                                   and his seniors call him dear?

                                   Did they say 'What a waste'

                                   when he married and then, when

                                   he carried on, suggest a nice

                                   little job – family planning

                                   or child health – should suffice

                                   Obstetrics wasn’t for men.

                                   Did they check who would take

                                   his calls at night? Did school

                                   phone him to say his child

                                   was sick? Or they were looking

                                   for an extra for the history trip?

                                   When he came home in time

                                   to lift his bath-warm son to drip

                                   on his knee, discuss how yellow

                                   ducks floated and real ones flew,

                                   and heard the work phone ring,

                                   did he begin

                                   to see their point of view?

After cataract surgery

00:00 / 01:24

                             Daily she wakes to the infinite variations

                             clouds play on the sun, the sliver of light

                             between blind and wall no longer

                             a slur of soft pastel but sharp

                             as a quartz vein through a cobble,

                             bright as the bowl of the half scallop

                             she picked from the beach in Clachtoll.

                             She sees the jut of the light switch,

                             its small hooked shadow, the unblinking

                             screws on either side, how it has the look

                             of an owl, how when someone crosses

                             the landing, the door flaps, briefly supplies wings.

                             She tests the bad eye, the nicotine sheen

                             that persists, remembers their first home,

                             smoke-stained cupboards that even

                             three scrubbings could not make clean,

                             closes that eye to make all bright again.

                             A three millimetre incision, narrow

                             as a baby tooth. Her vision become

                             falls of sari silk, surf breaking turquoise

                             in the sun, light splintered, gathering,

                             soft and precise as hoar frost.

The work of women

00:00 / 01:54

                             The doctor keeps the stitches small and even

                             as she was taught in school by the sisters,

                             working by hand down the long length

                             of a skirt, and back to make the French seam.

                             A single lamp lights her work. The cone

                             of starch white light picks up the smallest pucker,

                             every crooked stitch, standing at her shoulder

                             as Sister did, pushing her wire rimmed glasses

                             down her nose. She stitches the slow completion

                             of the birth, the return of the mother

                             from the inundation that swept through her.

                             Beyond the light, mother and baby

                             begin to learn their separation – the breathy

                             warmth and chill of mouth rooting for nipple,

                             clutching, letting fall; the cushiony

                             curves of cheek and breast; the astonishing,

                             instant fit of fist and finger. Voices

                             spill from the corridor, calm the havoc

                             of other births, transform parents

                             into grandparents, fade unnoticed

                             beneath the absorbing catch on skin

                             of needle, lips, fingers. Nearly done.

                             The doctor thinks of the nuns as she cuts

                             the last stitch, how they prayed together

                             for each other. Beneath her gown, too small

                             yet to tent the flesh, her baby stretches,

                             rolls, settles back into dreams.

Publishing credits

Equality for Boys: Learning from the Body (Yaffle Press)

After cataract surgery: One Hand Clapping

The work of women: 2020 Hippocrates Prize Anthology

  (The Hippocrates Press)


S h a r e

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