The phenomenon of the were-professor

Back in medicine posting now. It seems like we’ve been on a long hiatus from actually being in the hospital. It’s nice to be back in the wards but it is of course a real challenge. To top it all off, we’ve been posted with the toughest unit in this hospital. They are strict, ruthless, and incapable of being satisfied. It was naturally our instinct to shudder and moan and play the “why me” game. But after thinking about it a little bit, I realized that it’s more likely than not that I will have to encounter these people at some point during my stay at this medical school. I’d rather encounter them as teachers than as examiners. Although you can’t say they’re ever really on “our side”, at least their aim is to teach us, not to fail us.
When I first came to India from the States after 16 years in the American education system, I really thought that the professor-student relationship here was bizarre and absolutely unheard of in American medical schools. We stand up when the professor enters the classroom, we only call them sir or madam, we greet them with the humblest “Good morning” we can muster, and we try not to look them in the eye. Coming from a small liberal arts college in Boston where I had lunch with my professors and still send them postcards, I took some time to get used to the way things work here. But considering that medicine is one of those “old guard” professions that don’t really change much, a la Patch Adams, I don’t think my Indian colleagues and I are alone in this culture of “what doesn’t kill ’em will make ’em stronger”. Today we had a twenty minute lecture on pleural diseases after which we had a five minute rapid fire interrogation, followed by a twenty minute lecture on how useless today’s medical students are and how we will probably become horrendous doctors. I’m not sure if the professors honestly believe that this is the way to turn us into conscientious, studious students, or if they just enjoy taking out all of their frustrations on us. I’m sure there’s a rational explanation, but I have to say sometimes it’s difficult to see. More on this later. Kidney calls.

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Last Night I Dreamt of Mississippi – Nicolai Dunger – Late Nights with Turin Brakes

I came across Last Night I Dreamt of Mississippi by Nicolai Dunger on the compilation Late Nights with Turin Brakes. A pleasantly careworn song, sung with a nonchalant, sleepy attitude, it quickly ended up on my list of compulsively repeated songs. It starts off with a generally incomprehensible voice-over of an air hostess speaking right before takeoff, which actually has nothing to do with the rest of the song, it seems. The whole tone of the piece quickly changes with bluesy guitar chords and a catchy rhythm, which sound slightly hazy and drunk. Some unexpected notes here and there keep your attention until the fiddle starts up, with some lazy slides. The whole ensemble, even after the vocals start, has an almost trancelike cohesiveness, with very little countermelody or counterpoint. All the instrumentals follow almost the same trajectory, with Dunger’s cigarette-and-Jack-Daniels-filled voice joining right in, making the whole thing sound smooth and round. Pictures of moonless nights in the rocking chair on the porch almost fill my head but then some vague sense of desperation kicks in. It could be a much more run-of-the-mill song but somehow manages to amaze with its transparency. I haven’t heard anything else by Dunger, but I bet there’s incredible stuff out there.

A Good Man is Hard to Find – Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans

In an odd coincidental sequence of events, (i realize that’s a bit of an oxymoron), I read a story by Flannery O’Connor called A Good Man is Hard to Find, and then heard a Sufjan Stevens song with the same title. I’m not quite sure if the song is based on the story, but i’m pretty sure it is. O’Connor’s stories have a gruesomely realistic tone to them, where the worst that could happen happens, in the worst way it could have happened. Her language is dark, her themes are dark, her characters are self-righteously despicable. And yet, her stories are somehow appealing, gripping in an incomprehensible way. A Good Man is Hard to Find is a quintessential prototype of the blandly horrific stories O’Connor writes, a feeling-less story about a serial killer and his victims. When i read the story, it left me with a hollow feeling inside, neither pity nor sorrow. Just hollowness, emptiness. Revulsion of sorts, I suppose one could call it. But it seems that that is not what Stevens found in the story.
Stevens’ song gives an impression of delicacy, a mellow retrospective fraught with pleasant nostalgia. He starts off with his usual harmonious guitar chords with a sweet rhythm. His breathy voice joins in, with not even a hint of murder or hatred or rancor. But on a closer listen, the phrase “when I killed them” rolls into the air, an insidious reminder of the repulsive, self-righteous amorality in the society O’Connor writes about.
This has been a sort of multi-dimensional experience of a story that made an impact on me through its complete lack of impact and its inability to produce emotion in me, turning into a song that moves me, a song about hell and remorse.
The experience is odd for me because I’ve heard the song many times before and never paid much mind to it. But now that I’ve read the story, the song has a new meaning, creates new images in my mind.
In the end, I suppose a good man is hard to find, but a good song – not so hard.

If you’re interested, read the story and then hear the song.

today will be the last

Paper curling under your head collecting dust collecting dirt collecting filth
Rags are silks, just a different color feel different
That’s all.

You don’t need my help I know I have more than you have
I have more than you’ll ever have than you can dream about

In your dreams there’s a giant fish that swallows you over and over and over

But you don’t need me
You have your silks
And your paperpillow
do you need anything else?

You stink of urine
Of feces
Of dirt and hatred and guilt and capitalism
I had dinner today.
I had lunch today.
I didn’t have breakfast because I wasn’t hungry.

Were you hungry?

Probably not, you don’t have teeth.
They fell out a long time ago because you’ve never seen a toothbrush.

That’s not my fault.

Coins are jingling in my pockets.
There’s a hole in my pocket.
I might lose a penny.

I dream about being a giant fish.

Swimming and swallowing and being.
Large.

Everyone wants to be a giant fish.

You should be a fish. Maybe then you could have a bath.
And you wouldn’t smell like the government.

Think about it.

you think it’s like this but really it’s like this

The earth halts in its whirling spins
jerking fading slowing failing
burdens too heavy too big too angry to bear
stumbles and stops
knock-kneed
she kneels
the sins of the people of the demons we call people
kill murder destroy the people the angels we call people
and the equation is unsettled
the balance swings dangerously
and we turn our heads avert our eyes and pretend.
homicide genocide ethnocide
it is all just suicide
where are the bones of steel and spines of iron
where are the hearts of gold and souls of pure mercy
what have we become that we turn away and run run run when a drop of blood falls and turns to a single tear flowing down an emaciated cheek
the earth shakes from the voices unheard
silent screams
begging
crying
she gives up
gives in
the world is shattering.

felling blows

The earth halts in its whirling spins
jerking fading slowing failing
burdens too heavy too big too angry to bear
stumbles and stops
knock-kneed
she kneels
the sins of the people of the demons we call people
kill murder destroy the people the angels we call people
and the equation is unsettled
the balance swings dangerously
and we turn our heads avert our eyes and pretend.
homicide genocide ethnocide
it is all just suicide
where are the bones of steel and spines of iron
where are the hearts of gold and souls of pure mercy
what have we become that we turn away and run run run when a drop of blood falls and turns to a single tear flowing down an emaciated cheek
the earth shakes from the voices unheard
silent screams
begging
crying
she gives up
gives in
the world is shattering.

a plea

This is a fire and brimstone world
that drags me by the hair
leaving a trail
of blood.
this is a world whose lifebreath is lies.
cruel and blind lies.
but the truth of you keeps my eyes from closing.
the rhythm of your words keeps my heart from stopping.
our heart is stretched taut
a link that will not break
but will pull and pull until we bleed
you and i both
we will bleed

this is a cold world of terror and hate
that has you in a stranglehold
until you choke
and splutter.
this is a world whose lifeblood is deceit.
heartless and unfeeling deceit.
but the truth of me keeps your blood flowing.
the cadence of my words keeps your stomach from turning.
the link will not break.

you have me in your grip
in your hands and in your heart.

Truth, i live for you.

Do not let me go.
Without you i will not breathe.

My heart.
My blood.
My breath.
My life.

heroes

Published in Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets and Emcees; by LitNoire Publishing, 2006

At first there was nothing.
and God said, “Let there be light,”
and here we are, in the
dark.
The world began in nothingness
null void.
hardly different today.
dark night
blood in the streets
all i do in response is write this
worthless poem.
we live in a time of typhoons.
emotional whirlwinds.
we tear at each other’s throats like
wild dogs.
the world
– our suicidal world –
is on a transplant list
waiting patiently in line for a
soul.
we are the world
we are the champions
who crucified christ
who burned joan
who denounced luther
who imprisoned galileo
who called washington a rebel
who shot lincoln
who killed gandhi
who murdered king
we are the heroes
who have desecrated ourselves.
i mourn not the loss of our innocence
but that our goodness was stillborn.
i mourn that we are callow
that we serve the basest of human vices within ourselves.
that we gorge ourselves on the sour wine of
cowardice in the guise of self-respect.
we are gluttons when it comes to the bitter potion of
human intolerance
if there is such a thing.
we are broken.
broken beyond repair.
perhaps if we obliterate ourselves
we can begin anew
from the ash we become.