Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


The Medical Student

Paul went into doctoring
dogging his sister
who had just become a G.P.

It was an immature thing to do, but then
the clever ones always became
doctors, lawyers or vets.

Then his sister got pregnant and
left home to live with this man.

Suddenly, he felt insecure –
foetal, almost –
as if he had been born again.

19 May 1979

Paul was the boy next door when I was growing up. We were the same age and went to school together but we were never exactly friends. Odd that. Last I heard he was studying to become a doctor. He was certainly clever enough but I’ve no idea what happened to him after I left school; he could be dead for all I know. He had an older sister who did indeed fall pregnant and left home to live with “some man” but we didn’t see much of her after that. In Scotland in the early seventies that was still something frowned upon and there was “talk” among the neighbours. I don’t think she was a doctor. I expect I made that up. I do remember she was very tall. Her brother wasn’t. He was shorter than me and I wasn’t anything more than your average height.

Paul may have been gay. Another source of shame for the family. In the seventies in Scotland no one was gay. I say “may” because I never knew for sure but there was “talk”. In the seventies there was a lot of “talk”; it was all we could afford. My mother said she once saw Paul sitting on the door step with a roller in his hair. Well that was it as far as she was concerned. At school he used to pal around with the vet’s boy and they got slagged because everyone got slagged for something.—it was what we did—but, as far as I know, there was never any proof. Maybe they’re still together. Maybe they’re married. Stranger things have happened.

So there are autobiographical elements in this poem but it’s still mostly fiction. It’s been published twice but I have no record of what magazines took it. It was the third doctor poem—after ‘The Venereologist’ (#485) and ‘The Pathologist’ (#495). No idea why I started writing them but they dried up after this one.


Kass said...

I really like reading the back story to your poems. And, as you know, I like poems that are slightly alarming, this being one of them.

As the quickest way of letting you know, I received a most delightful and surprising gift yesterday. I am already supplying much meaning to these poems. Thank you so much. I can't help but wonder how you got my address. Google?

Jim Murdoch said...

There’s not much you can’t find through Google, Kass. I hope you like the book. I did send you an e-mail but the one you have associated with your blog clearly isn’t reaching you so I just thought I’d chance my arm. Fortunately you have a distinctive name. You did review my first poetry collection so I’m surprised I don’t have a note of your address but I couldn’t find it. That’s not why I sent it anyway. You’ve been commenting a lot this year and so think of it as a thank you.

As far as disturbing poems go there have been one or two in these earlier poems where I’ve wondered where my head was. I was looking at what to post next and there’s one about a girl on a swing and it’s clearly meant to be an uncomfortable read. Maybe I’ll post it next.

PhilipH said...

She who had gone has gone again

One line from a poem you wrote a while back called Poem in Want, a poem that was, for me, just perfect.

It was uncanny the way it reflected something in my own life, back in 1951. It reminded me of my first love. She has finally gone, and as your last line goes:

She is gone and she is never coming back.

If this poem were more widely available I am CERTAIN it would reflect the feelings of thousands of other chaps. It would also apply to the ladies if the gender was changed to 'he', 'girl' to man and so on.

Thanks so much for sending me this poem. Much appreciated Jim.

Tim Love said...

Maybe it's time for me to chip in and say that I like these posts too - they're like autobiography without the boring bits.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Tim. I never set out for this to be a memoir or even a reminiscence. I was just looking for a way to buy myself the time I needed to edit this book which I knew would take me several months—I’m hallway through my fifth run through (the next one will be a simple read through to see if all my edits and tweaks sit right)—and this seemed a sensible approach. Of course now I’m up to my armpits in writing again I don’t particularly want to go back to blogging especially as it never delivered what those who were supposedly in the know at the time said it would. So I may continue to publish poems for the foreseeable future with the odd review if and when I can be bothered doing one.

When I sit down with my big red folder it feels very much like an autobiography. The poems may not be directly about what was going on in my life there and then but I often remember something about the writing. No one but me will ever read my poems in this way but that’s fine. I look at a name like ‘Paul’ and I’ve got sixteen years’ worth of memories. I can picture him—accompanied by the vet’s boy—doing power chords in the school playground. I remember fighting him—a wrestling match that turned sour—in the garden at the end of the street. I recall clearly being royally pissed when he was named dux ahead of me. Paul will always be all of those things to me. But he’s only the template for the poem and I’d hate to think that anyone reading it thinks they’ve missed something or I’ve not done my job properly. These wee comments at the end are just what come to my mind after reading the poems. But I’m still glad you like them.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m always grateful when something I’ve written finds its ideal reader, Philip. So many don’t but the one or two that do don’t half sustain me. I suppose my crowning achievement was reducing a grown man to tears. That’s what happened when a guy I worked with read my poem ‘Making Do’. The irony, of course, is that I was never especially close to my own mum—a psychologist once asked me to tell me about my mother and I said, “I’ll tell you about my father and that’ll help you understand me and my mother”—but this guy had been and it was just the trigger he needed.

PhilipH said...

Just read your Ma's spider poem.

Short, succinct, simple and sweet. Thanks very much for pointing me to it.

Jim Murdoch said...

Glad you liked Mum’s poem, Philip. She loved all creatures great and small. She’d feed hedgehogs and foxes and all kinds of birds—a robin redbreast used to come to the doorstep to get fed by her—and we were never without a cat in the house, at least not for long, and it was always a stray and invariably a tom. No sooner did one cat die than within a few weeks another would appear at the door and get dutifully adopted. Dad, who was not a cat person, would only let her have one (you see where the ‘making do’ comes from) and when he died I fully expected her to turn into a crazy cat lady but that never happened. For a while she had two on the go but was back down to one when she herself passed.

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