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Travels With John Hunter

Written by: Les Murray | Biography
 We who travel between worlds 
lose our muscle and bone. 
I was wheeling a barrow of earth 
when agony bayoneted me. 

I could not sit, or lie down, 
or stand, in Casualty. 
Stomach-calming clay caked my lips, 
I turned yellow as the moon 

and slid inside a CAT-scan wheel 
in a hospital where I met no one 
so much was my liver now my dire 
preoccupation. I was sped down a road. 

of treetops and fishing-rod lightpoles 
towards the three persons of God 
and the three persons of John Hunter 
Hospital. Who said We might lose this one. 

Twenty days or to the heat-death 
of the Universe have the same duration: 
vaguely half a hour. I awoke 
giggling over a joke 

about Paul Kruger in Johannesburg 
and missed the white court stockings 
I half remembered from my prone 
still voyage beyond flesh and bone. 

I asked my friend who got new lungs 
How long were you crazy, coming back? 
Five days, he said. Violent and mad. 
Fictive Afrikaner police were at him, 

not unworldly Oom Paul Kruger. 
Valerie, who had sat the twenty days 
beside me, now gently told me tales 
of my time-warp. The operative canyon 

stretched, stapled, with dry roseate walls 
down my belly. Seaweed gel 
plugged views of my pluck and offal. 
The only poet whose liver 

damage hadn't been self-inflicted, 
grinned my agent. A momentarily 
holed bowel had released flora 
who live in us and will eat us 

when we stop feeding them the earth. 
I had, it did seem, rehearsed 
the private office of the grave, 
ceased excreting, made corpse gases 

all while liana'd in tubes 
and overseen by cockpit instruments 
that beeped or struck up Beethoven's 
Fifth at behests of fluid. 

I also hear when I lay lipless 
and far away I was anointed 
first by a mild metaphoric church 
then by the Church of no metaphors. 

Now I said, signing a Dutch contract 
in a hand I couldn't recognise, 
let's go and eat Chinese soup 
and drive to Lake Macquarie. Was I 

not renewed as we are in Heaven? 
In fact I could hardly endure 
Earth gravity, and stayed weak and cranky 
till the soup came, squid and vegetables, 

pure Yang. And was sane thereafter. 
It seemed I'd also travelled 
in a Spring-in-Winter love-barque of cards, 
of flowers and phone calls and letters, 

concern I'd never dreamed was there 
when black kelp boiled in my head. 
I'd awoken amid my State funeral, 
nevermore to eat my liver 

or feed it to the Black Dog, depression 
which the three Johns Hunter seem 
to have killed with their scalpels: 
it hasn't found its way home, 

where I now dodder and mend 
in thanks for devotion, for the ambulance 
this time, for the hospital fork lift, 
for pethidine, and this face of deity: 

not the foreknowledge of death 
but the project of seeing conscious life 
rescued from death defines and will 
atone for the human.



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