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Litany of a Cardiologist, Denise Bundred

Against The Grain Poetry Press, 2020   £6.00

Contrasting views

This pamphlet brims with poignancy. I was struck by the interplay of medical procedures with ordinary aspects of life. The title of the pamphlet comes from the poem ‘Litany of a Cardiologist’ which is an extreme version of this. In each couplet, the first line has specialist medical terms. The second line translates this into something we can all understand — ending with ‘born with heart disease (as in child)’.

In ‘Today’s News’, we are placed in the shoes of a father trying to absorb the bad news about his daughter’s condition: ‘Jargon buffets me like shockwaves’. Bundred contrasts the difficulty of understanding the medical information with the domestic details of a clock, cup of tea, crooked picture and spilled coffee. She caps the sense of things not being right by referring to the collapse of one of the Twin Towers.

I found ‘Passing Something On’ particularly moving. This poem is about the donation of a boy’s heart to a young girl. The first half of the poem charts the cardiologist assessing the boy’s heart: ‘the monitor marks last moments‘. The second half switches to an image of cycling in the countryside to suggest the impact the operation could have:

Your gift will let her crest that rise,
freewheel past celandine, buttercups,
poppies, the first wild strawberry.

‘Foetal Scan’ is devastating in its emotional honesty. The poem starts by describing teenage parents laughing as the mother-to-be has a scan. The cardiologist finds ‘the twisted valve, the missing chamber’ and imagines the baby saying ‘Leave me alone, don’t tell my parents yet’. This line sets up the final couplet brilliantly:

For a few minutes more
they think you are perfect.

This pamphlet gets under the skin of a cardiologist’s life, showing how human sensitivity is at the heart of good medical treatment, however complex the medical terms.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad