Death by soup and broth


“Oh great - you’re here early”
my boss says, as I put down my bag on the desk
five minutes early for my first shift after some time away
“It’s been a maggot day” 

I love her language, especially when she’s stressed
“there is an old bird on an ambulance trolley out front
who’s been there about an hour and a half.
Can you sort her out?”

Sort her out, I will
that octogenarian mandarin lady who can’t speak english.
No worries.

there is no translator.
Her daughter’s english is broken 
but she tells me “mum’s not well”
there’s nothing specifically wrong, but her blood pressure is up
and she feels "a little off"
so they thought they’d call an ambulance for a check-up.

I roll my minds eye, but take care to not roll my eyes. 
A thousand assumptions flood my mind.
call an ambulance for a checkup.

On taxpayer money, she’s just spent.
A couple of hundred for the ambulance ride.
A couple of hours of my time and the nurses time.
And I’ll order a couple of hundred dollars worth of tests she probably doesn’t need.
It’s how the system works. 
Or doesn’t.

I give up on taking a history.
I examine her.
Chest clear.
Belly soft.
Breathings fine.
She looks pretty comfortable.
I take blood tests and walk away.

“another life saved” I whisper 
in a joke born of my self-important contempt, 
with a wink of camaraderie at the triage nurse
who smiles back

This isn’t why either of us got into emergency medicine.
why couldn’t a young person have crashed his car just before my shift?
Instead of this old bird feeling a bit off.

But then the lab technician leaves an urgent message for me to ring.
Flustered he tells me that her salt level is low. very low.
For us in the know - it’s scary low.
she left hospital a week ago 
and she was given a letter that,
down at the bottom of the page in size nine font
told her she has an issue in her kidneys
and not to drink more than a litre of water a day
but she did.
“didn’t you know?” I ask
“know what?” her daughter replies, anxious and confused,
translating for her mother into mandarin.
“mum can’t read.” her daughter says.
“I’ve been making sure she keeps her fluids up!” 
her daughter says
“I’ve been making her soup and broth!”

she nearly killed her mum
because no one told her soup and broth could kill.

A salt specialist is called.
An Intensive care specialist is called.
She needs blood tests every three hours.
if her salt level stays low she will have a seizure.
If it gets lower she could go into a coma or die
but if we fix it too fast she could die too.

This little old bird.
almost dead because no one told 
her daughter not to make her soup and broth.


Cross Cultural communication: a biblical perspective

This Poem was written as part of an intensive on cross-cultural communication, at Sydney Missionary and Bible College.

You created all people in Your image, and created all culture
People are broken and are sinful
We express our sinful, broken hearts in many and varied ways.
created in You’re image but broken, we form culture. Cultures that are You’re image but broken.

But You did not give up
When we wrote poetry, You used David to write psalms
When we wrote wisdom, You used the wise to write proverbs and ecclesiastes and job.

And You did not give up.
You provided a person, like us,
who was circumcised on the eighth day but overturned the moneylenders

He existed in and made sense in culture
but he did not submit to it
He corrected the teachers and they killed him.

And then he sent us out
to every people, language, nation, culture
and we spend time trying to work it out

You were the unknown god in the Areopagus
and you were the fulfilment of the law in Jerusalem
and you were more than zeus and hermes in Lystra

We don’t need to be jews to be christians
Gentile christians weren’t circumcised
but Corinthian christians had to cover their heads

it looks different everywhere
in every culture, conformed to christ and following him
in different forms but the same message

Jesus Christ is Lord
of all culture, people, nations
You had not given up

And there will be a city
and the glory of the nations will come in
and the quirks of all the cultures will come in.
and its river will be for our healing.

An Absolutley Ordinary Rainbow

An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow- by Les Murray

The word goes round Repins,
the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There’s a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can’t stop him.

The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There’s a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches
simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
sob very loudly—yet the dignity of his weeping

holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
or force stood around him. There is no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
and such as look out of Paradise come near him
and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit—
and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
as many as follow her also receive it

and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
of his writhen face and ordinary body

not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea—
and when he stops, he simply walks between us
mopping his face with the dignity of one
man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.

Paul Kelly – Meet me in the middle of the Air

This is one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s a song about Jesus, written by Paul Kelly, probably australia’s greatest songwriter of all time.

As far as i am aware, Paul Kelly is not a christian, but that doesn’t make this song any less insightful into the christian faith.

1Thess 5: 16-17 says “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the middle of the air”

The song is mostly a mixture of that and psalm 23; which combines into a beautiful picture of the assurance we have in the love and provision of God.

I’m not sure if Paul has ever read 1 Thess 5. According to his book ‘How to Make Gravy’ (which i think everyone should read) he thought he was just singing psalm 23, and inserting into it a line that has been ‘floating around for more than a hundred years in blues, gospel and spirituals’. Well i guess that’s one good reason to put scripture into good songs.

You can hear australian artist megan washington singing it here

or listen to tripod and eddie perfect singing it here

Meet Me in the Middle of the Air

i am your true shepherd
i will lead you there
beside still waters
come and meet me in the middle of the air
i will meet you in the middle of the air

i will lay you down
in pastures green and fair
every soul shall be restored
i will meet them in the middle of the air
come and meet me in the middle of the air

through the lonesome valleys
my rod and staff you’ll bear
fear not deaths dark shadows
come and meet me in the middle of the air
i will meet you in the middle of the air

with oil i shall annoint you
the table i shall prepare
your cup will runneth over
come and meet me in the middle of the air
i will meet you in the middle of the air

in my house you’ll dwell forever
you shall not want for care
surely goodness and mercy will follow you
come and meet me in the middle of the air
i will meet you in the middle of the air

come and meet me in the middle of the air
i will meet you in the middle of the air

come and meet me in the middle of the air
i will meet you in the middle of the air

i will meet you in the middle of the air

Noonday Axeman

by Les Murray

Noonday Axeman

Axe-fall, echo and silence. Noonday silence.
Two miles from here, it is the twentieth century:
cars on the bitumen, powerlines vaulting the farms.
Here, with my axe, I am chopping into the stillness.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. I pause, roll tobacco,
twist a cigarette, lick it. All is still.
I lean on my axe. A cloud of fragrant leaves
hangs over me moveless, pierced everywhere by sky.

Here, I remember all of a hundred years:
candleflame, still night, frost and cattle bells,
the draywheels’ silence final in our ears,
and the first red cattle spreading through the hills

and my great-great-grandfather here with his first sons,
who would grow old, still speaking with his Scots accent,
having never seen those highlands that they sang of.
A hundred years. I stand and smoke in the silence.

A hundred years of clearing, splitting, sawing,
a hundred years of timbermen, ringbarkers, fencers
and women in kitchens, stoking loud iron stoves
year in, year out, and singing old songs to their children

have made this silence human and familiar
no farther than where the farms rise into foothills,
and, in that time, how many have sought their graves
or fled to the cities, maddened by this stillness?

Things are so wordless. These two opposing scarves
I have cut in my red-gum squeeze out jewels of sap
and stare. And soon, with a few more axe-strokes,
the tree will grow troubled, tremble, shift its crown

and, leaning slowly, gather speed and colossally
crash down and lie between the standing trunks.
And then, I know, of the knowledge that led my forebears
to drink and black rage and wordlessness, there will be silence.

After the tree falls, there will reign the same silence
as stuns and spurns us, enraptures and defeats us,
as seems to some a challenge, and seems to others
to be waiting here for something beyond imagining.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. Unhuman silence.
A stone cracks in the heat. Through the still twigs, radiance
stings at my eyes. I rub a damp brow with a handkerchief
and chop on into the stillness. Axe-fall and echo.

The great mast murmurs now. The scarves in its trunk
crackle and squeak now, crack and increase as the hushing
weight of the high branches heels outward, and commences
tearing and falling, and the collapse is tremendous.

Twigs fly, leaves puff and subside. The severed trunk
slips off its stump and drops along its shadow.
And then there is no more. The stillness is there
as ever. And I fall to lopping branches.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. It will be centuries
before many men are truly at home in this country,
and yet, there have always been some, in each generation,
there have always been some who could live in the presence of silence.

And some, I have known them, men with gentle broad hands,
who would die if removed from these unpeopled places,
some again I have seen, bemused and shy in the cities,
you have built against silence, dumbly trudging through noise

past the railway stations, looking up through the traffic
at the smoky halls, dreaming of journeys, of stepping
down from the train at some upland stop to recover
the crush of dry grass underfoot, the silence of trees.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. Dreaming silence.
Though I myself run to the cities, I will forever
be coming back here to walk, knee-deep in ferns,
up and away from this metropolitan century,

to remember my ancestors, axemen, dairymen, horse-breakers,
now coffined in silence, down with their beards and dreams,
who, unwilling or rapt, despairing or very patient,
made what amounts to a human breach in the silence,

made of their lives the rough foundation of legends-
men must have legends, else they will die of strangeness-
then died in their turn, each, after his own fashion,
resigned or agonized, from silence into great silence.

Axe-fall, echo and axe-fall. Noonday silence.
Though I go to the cities, turning my back on these hills,
for the talk and dazzle of cities, for the sake of belonging
for months and years at a time to the twentieth century,

the city will never quite hold me. I will be always
coming back here on the up-train, peering, leaning
out of the window to see, on far-off ridges,
the sky between the trees, and over the racket
of the rails to hear the echo and the silence.

I shoulder my axe and set off home through the stillness.

The Last Hellos

This Is a poem by Les Murray. It’s one of my favourite poems of all time. This is the first entry in a series i am going to load up over the next few weeks – my photos, les murrays words.

The Last Hellos

Don’t die, Dad–
but they die.

This last year he was wandery:
took off a new chainsaw blade
and cobbled a spare from bits.
Perhaps if I lay down
my head’ll come better again.
His left shoulder kept rising
higher in his cardigan.

He could see death in a face.
Family used to call him in
to look at sick ones and say.
At his own time, he was told.

The knob found in his head
was duck-egg size. Never hurt.
Two to six months Cecil.

I’ll be right, he boomed
to his poor sister oon the phone
I’ll do that when I finish dyin.

Don’t die, Cecil.
But they do.

Going for last drives
in the bush, odd massive

board-slotted stumps bony white
in whipstick second growth.
I could chop all day.

I could always cash
a cheque, in Sydney or anywhere.
Any of the shops.

Eating, still at the head
of the table, he now missed
food on his knife side.

Sorry, Dad, but like
have you forgiven your enemies?
Your father and all them?

All his lifetime of hurt.

I must have,(grin). I don’t
think about that now.

People can’t say goodbye
any more. They say last hellos.

Going fast, over Christmas,
he’d still stumble out
of his room, where his photos
hang over the other furniture,
and play host to his mourners.

The courage of his bluster,
firm big voice of his confusion.

Two last days in the hospital:
his long forearms were still
red mahogany. His hands
gripped steel frame. I’m dyin.

On the second day:
You’re bustin to talk
but I’m too busy dyin.

Grief ended when he died,
the widower like soldiers who
won’t live life their mates had missed.

Good boy Cecil! No more Bluey dog.
No more cowtime. No more stories.
We’re still using your imagination,
it was stronger than all ours.

Your grave’s got littler
somehow in the three months.
More pointy as the clay’s shrivelled,
like a stuck zip in a coat.

Your cricket boots are in
the State museum! Odd letters
still come. Two more’s died since you:
Annie and Stewart. Old Stewart.

On your day there was a good crowd,
family, and people from away.
But of course a lot had gone
to their own funerals first.

Snobs mind us off religion
nowadays, if they can.
Fuck thém. I wish you God.

Questions that don’t need to be asked yet (but always are)

thinking about the future
i put smiles on faces of people who do not exist
and stress about worries that i do not yet have.

In the sun I listen to old music
And enjoy jatz and beer.

Will i have ever have time?
Will I have memorized yesterdays lectures?
And will it matter for the lepers?
And will I ever meet them?
Or is the future of western medicine all diabetes and smoking?
And will I remember that
The only muscle of the pharynx innervated by something
Is palatoglossus, I think.
Thought I do not know which nerve. Or really which muscle.
I have it written on a flash card somewhere, I think.
My friend is working on a vaccination for TB
And in this one year will contribute more to the welfare
Of the world than I will ever
And in fact for the next four years I will just be learning facts.
But I have memorized all the cranial nerves
And most of the ones of the body
but does that even matter?
If iphones will mean doctors don’t need to know so much after all?
Should I even bother now?
But my iPhone mostly just knows angry birds
And Im not sure how that will help.

And anyway, no one knows how paracetemol works
And no one knows what causes migraines anyway
And is paul simon right?
Does the missisippi delta lie shining like the national guitar?
And should I see the murray-darling system
And write a song about the national something?
Or is that even possible in australia?
And is it irresponsible for me to worry about that?
When I cannot remember all the types of headaches
but a subarachnoid hemorrhage is a thunderclap
And migraines might be vascular, or might be of a neurological origin
And my friend has a migraine.
And no one even knows how aspirin works
But it works for everything.
And TPA is only effective if given in the first
Three hours after a stroke
After that it kills people. I think.
And a church is burning

in the sun i listen to old music
and rest exhausted from eating jatz.

And the future is now
And it’s time to take a stand
But I still keep forgetting to test
The muscles of the jaw
When examining the cranial nerves
So I really wish the future was now, but not just yet.

and one day maybe i will meet a child
sick, will i know what to do?
will i have learnt how to heal the boy?
or will i have misspent my time on other things?
will that misspent time really be misspent
or is it valuable none the less?
or what if i spend all my time studying
but Jesus returns before i treat anyone?
will the study have been wasted?
and anyway, does aspirin even really work for headache?

In the sun i listen to old music
and rest from time misspent. perhaps.