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11 Jan 2024

Ford Neal


New Moon


Jan 25th

Lux in
tenebris lucet

Dec 27th

After Three Oncologists

(Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri

and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery

and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee)

by Ken Currie

            The first says


                                                  It is cold here.

                                                  It is not dark, but

                                                  the light is green and strange.

                                                  Perhaps it is dark, and we are owls—

                                                  we do not remember.



            The second says

                                                  Perhaps it is dark, and we are moles

                                                  groping our way 

                                                  through wipe-clean tunnels, surfacing

                                                  in wipe-clean rooms. 

                                                  Where is the earth?

                                                  Where are the roots?


            The third says


                                                  I am not an owl. I am not a mole.

                                                  I was a child once. 

                                                  There were schooldays and holidays

                                                  and birthday parties

                                                  but that’s all forgotten now.

            The first says


                                                  Are these our hands?

                                                  What have we been doing with them?

                                                  The only sounds here 

                                                  are machine-cold. Contraptions hum

                                                  and whir and beep, but all the humans

                                                  are quiet. It is cold here.

                                                  It is not dark.

            The second says


                                                  I was always a clever boy.

                                                  Only the cleverest boys were allowed

                                                  to become what we have become.

                                                  Owls, or moles

                                                  sent into the darkness

                                                  to bring the others back.

            The third says

                                                  I am not an owl, or a mole.

                                                  Look at the evidence—it is not dark here. 

                                                  I was a boy, and now

                                                  I am a candle. 

                                                  Lux in tenebris lucet.

Behind the poem...

This poem responds to Ken Currie’s painting Three Oncologists, which hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. In Currie’s painting, the subjects appear as beings simultaneously liminal, vulnerable, and supernatural. I chose to place the three characters ‘in conversation’ in my poem, yet each is ultimately alone in this moment of exposure. Currie has said his approach was inspired by one of the subjects remarking that people see cancer as darkness, and it’s the oncologist’s job to go in and retrieve them from that darkness. My poem’s title (and its final line) means, ‘light shines in darkness’.

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