The Otorhinolaryngologist

After having asked me to say Ah
after having himself said Ah
the otorhinolaryngologist
guided me silently  over the ancient carpet
to a small white room with two low stools
and handed me a bulb on the end of a cord:
this, he said, is a cold light,
and I want you to put it in your mouth.
He flicked a switch and we sat in the dark
lit only by my ghostly face.
Suddenly I understood
history, weather, time,
I could see the skeleton
of every memory
the how of war
the knife of every scar;
everything I'd never learned
burned brightly in my mind— 
calculus, zoology,
I could see the otorhinolaryngologist
seeing me, I could see
how good he was, and beyond him
where evil came from,
the origins of language, and languages,
the splintering chaos
of thought, slowed down
till I could hear its ticking,
the birth of galaxies, planets and stars,
sped up so I could grasp all in an instant
but once his eyes had adjusted
to the dark in which my sinuses glowed
the otorhinolaryngologist
extinguished the light in my head
and turned on the light
in the small white room
plunging me back into
familiar mists
through which I swam to
pay him and to leave— 
a cold wind blew down the street,
I was hungry, and stumbled,
hankering, perplexed,
abandoned again
to hunting for something
in the hollow spaces
in the voiceless spaces
filled with the sound of footsteps
into the dark.

Photo by Peter Black

Andrew Johnston is a New Zealand poet who lives in France. His latest book is Fits and Starts (Victoria University Press, 2016).

Johnston comments: ‘“The Otorhinolaryngologist” exaggerates only slightly a visit I made to an ear, nose and throat specialist in Paris. His name was Dr Levy and he did put a light bulb in my mouth. He is not responsible for what happened next.’

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