One of the most vivid of the moments still lodged in my ever-receding past is the moment you joined us here on earth. I replay it in my mind’s eye like a snippet of movie reel through the old Bell & Howell projector. A little bit grainy and blurry at spots, there’s some frayed sprocket holes that are a bit jittery, but it is intact, it is cinema verite, even these many years later.

I remember your apgar, I remember your weight. I remember how many inches from head to toe. I held you the second you were born, as the disconcerting birth-canal deformity of your tiny head morphed back into the perfect. I remember the exhausted relief of your mother, 13 hours large in the process that was you. I attended that birth, as I have every one since. If I were to pursue a career in obstetrics as you are, I have already completed half the residency requirement. But you were the first.

Did you know that I invented something as I watched you walk across the stage and receive your diploma, that blistering hot June day in Middlebury Vermont? As I sat waiting for your turn to collect your scrip, something amazing just popped into my head. It is at the patent office even now, a shuffle of paper waiting patiently in an impossibly deep pile, waiting for Sisyphus.

I can hardly express what went through my mind as I watched the Justice of the Peace give your hand to that boy. It would be a frivolous conceit to say that I gave you away that blistering hot June day in the matrimonial garden, that I lost you that day. No, I gave you up some years before. That moment was merely a shuffle of paper, a formality. But that doesn’t detract from the moment’s beauty, nor from my likely undeserved pride in you, in who you were at that moment.

You know, don’t you, that your mother has long forgiven me? More than that, she understands. She knows that it was right and we agree. That blistering hot June day in the superior court that it was done between us, was merely a shuffle of paper, a formality. Afterwards, we looked at each other like the day we met. With an irony so perfect as to burn sweet like raw sugar, she said “By the way…Happy Anniversary.” We hugged with an intimacy and love that we’d not known for years, and she got in her car, and I got in my car, and the horizon was there waiting patiently at the edge of the parking lot, our respective compasses pointing to disparate north stars.

But the world is a tidy world, and good has evil, and right has wrong, and wrong has fault, and fault has blame.

In the tidy world of a child, nay the pure world of a child, those colors don’t mix.

If science proves anything for us, It proves, with ever-increasing precision that contrary to God’s love, the world…the physical world…doesn’t prefer us and might even want us to fuck up. Life is about stumbling from one fuck-up to the next; managing somehow moment-to-moment to avoid becoming a lumpy, reddish smear of mucous on some coarse pavement somewhere. In that world “tidy” is vaguely quaint, a simplification of assumptions that allows us to dispense with untidy variables as if they mean nothing. As if they’re just rounding error and don’t mean a god-damn thing.

I want to give you, tell you something. This is not a something that I pulled out of thin air, some more of the inchoate unsubstantial ramblings that impatient those who humor me, this is a something that I took from the universe, uninvited. This is stolen knowledge. I want to tell you about your future.

You, who are a mere 9 months give or take from being reborn into this world as “Doctor.” You who once decided that fault was fault, and blame was blame, and civil disengagement was the requisite engagement. Practiced civility with a septic aroma, like something forgotten and moist in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, hiding behind the big pickle jar. Polite, in it’s ineffable way.

I would like to introduce you to one of your future colleagues. His name is Michael, or Azrael, or whatever nom de plume suits the whim of an Archangel of Death one moment or the next. He’s an acquaintance of mine and I’ve asked him to keep a weather eye out for you.

He is a good enough guy, for an Archangel. Unassuming, deferential. Not an impetuous type. All Doctors come to know him eventually. Some know him well. The good ones certainly do. The bad doctors seem to have never made his acquaintance, though they’ve crossed paths with him so many times.

There will be those times when you will stand in the surgical theatre, instruments in hand, elbows-deep into the defining moment of someone else’s life. Your colleague Death will politely whisper in your ear a melodious sing-song, “good show, good work, looks about right, I’ll take it from here.”

And there will be nothing you can do but step aside and defer to his far greater experience.

There will be times also, that he will enter the theatre unannounced, rubbing sleep from his eyes of infinite depth asking “Who summoned me here? This was not in my lists today.”

That is a day you will dread, a moment you should loathe. What are you, after all? A goal-keep against the gates of Hell, or the ticket vendor for the ride? On that day you will go home, you will look with infinite, empty eyes at that boy-now-man I gave you to, and you will not have anything to give to him. I don’t know him well enough to know whether he can refill your hollowed-out soul. I hope so. But I do know that I can. At that moment when you need wrong to have fault and fault to have blame, I can. My shoulders are broad and well-rehearsed.

I know of which I speak. After all, for all the births that I have attended like yours there were those in which my acquaintance Asrael was midwife. Things I’ve never told you, nor ever will. My shoulders are broad and well-rehearsed.

It’s a black-and-white problem isn’t it? They’re sick, you’re the Healer. But in this world, my love, those colors mix. When those who have placed their trust in you are ushered to the wrong platform, sent on the wrong train. There will be fault, and there will be blame. And all the colors run together in a messy gray puddle. That puddle is where the real world lives.

But you will be one of the good ones. One of the healers. One of those who frustrate death more often than not. For you, there is a fix. It’s unwieldy, unpredictable. An untidy color. It is a grindstone attacking the scythe at oblique angle, blunting instead of sharpening it. It is the only tool you can possess that Azrael cannot. I can give you that, when you’re ready to ask for it. I’ve been holding on to it for you. I’ll be right here waiting, on some blistering hot June day, next to Sisyphus.

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David Wozmak (dwoz) is a father, musician, husband, writer, mechanic, painter, carpenter, stoneworker, cook, information architect, graphic artist, gentleman farmer, and campaigner against entropy, despite the obvious futility. Born and raised closer in miles and spirit to Boston than anyplace else, he lives in southern NH.

17 responses to “Physician…”

  1. J.E. Fishman says:

    This is a beautiful prose poem, Dwoz. It has big shoulders.

  2. Frankly this is the worst Tao Lin knock-off I’ve ever read. And, since I’ve never read anything BUT Tao Lin, *”i”* should know.

    (J.E. isn’t wide of the mark, it’s a great piece… but Shhhhh…)

    • dwoz says:


      This is a brutal but honest statement, and I appreciate that. I have to concede as a matter of objective truth that taken as a paean to the prose style of TL, this piece is a failure.

      I will try, somehow, to re-group and pick up the shattered pieces of my life. Maybe switch to cake decorating. I’ve been watching a lot of Food Network these days, cake decorating looks like fun. Though the cake decorating judges on Food Network are pretty harsh too.



  3. J.M. Blaine says:

    This hurt my heart with it’s depth and truth and pictures of a Sad old world. Beauty and chaos. Everywhere.

    The part with the daughter and papers and the blistering sun…

    Years ago I saw a fellow in the ICU who had died and come back.

    “I seen Death,” he told me.

    “Yeah, I heard,” I said.

    “Naw, I seen him. Death,” he replied. “With my eyes.”

    “What’s he look like?” I asked.

    “You ain’t gonna believe me,” he said.

    “Try me.”

    He paused awhile and looked at the lights.

    “Willie Nelson,” he said.

    “Mister,” I told him, after a pause. “If Death looks like Willie Nelson, I ain’t afraid to die.”

    “Shit,” he said laughing . “Me neither.”

    • dwoz says:

      what a perfect anecdote.

      Thanks, JM.

      My own personal vision of Death was along those same kind of lines. I’m not sure if my experience is typical, but it’s a kind of lucid dream moment.

      For me, I was suddenly in this non-discriminate scene, standing at the back of a convertible car of non-discriminate american manufacture, with a pretty but non-discriminate woman wearing NYC-midlevel-business attire. She had lost her keys and needed to get into the trunk of the car.

      I distinctly recall thinking to myself that on the grand scale of end-of-life visions-that-reveal-the-purpose-of-the-universe, this one was decidedly mundane, banal even, and I felt a little petulant, like I had been cheated.

    • Gloria says:

      Man… I hope that’s true.

  4. Jessica Blau says:

    This is so great, DWOZ. Beautiful.

    I can barely remember what the APGAR is . . . numerical system for color, clarity and depth? Wait, or is that diamonds? For color, right??

    • dwoz says:

      Hi, Jessica.

      Thanks for reading. Coming from you, the compliment is amplified tenfold!

      APGAR is the quick-assessment score they give to a baby, right out of the chute, to make a fast-track decision about whether the baby goes to the mother’s breast or to the “needs more work” table. It’s been a while so I might be a bit off, but it evaluates reaction to a stimulus, breathing on her own, pink or not, and one or two other things.

      I think it’s become less relevant than it used to be. It was developed around the time that obstetricians were routinely knocking mothers into anesthetic la-la land for deliveries, and the babies were coming out non-responsive (because they were full of drugs). Apgar taken at multiple intervals was a quick way for them to decide if the baby was non-responsive because of the anesthesia or because of a bigger problem. Obstetrics has sort of moved on from those medieval dark age practices.

      Just a metric like the length and weight…ultimately useless information, the only reason I remember that schpiel is because it was recited to me as I was imprinting with my new baby.

      Gems are AGL-GIA. I know that useless info because my father-in-law is a jeweler! (useless because I have no gems to grade!!!!!!)

  5. Nancey says:

    I really enjoyed this, beautifully written, thank you.

    I remember that day too with my own, it’s staggeringly life changing. Nothing that comes after can quite compare.

    • dwoz says:

      yup. They’re always yours, from that moment on. Whatever else happens can’t change that.

      Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate your time.

  6. Gloria says:

    Damn, dwoz. You’ve really hit your stride with this one. Beautiful.

    • dwoz says:

      Those words from your lips are more meaningful to me than you may know. You’ve been a big help to me in the past, (*which may confuse you because of how brief and casual our interaction has been…but what you told me about my writing was catalyst for a major epiphany) and I appreciate it.

      • Gloria says:

        That’ll be $127.50. I only accept cashier’s checks. 😀

        • dwoz says:

          In “Charlie Brown,” Lucy only charged five cents. But that was in 1965. These days, $127 seems to only buy you a tank of gas and a venti mocha latte.

          I guess that $127.50 is fair compensation for “an hour of your life that you’ll never get back.”

          do you have a paypal account?

  7. Good Grief says:

    “My successful daughter thinks I’m a schmuck for dumping her mom, but just wait until she inadvertently eighty-sixes some poor bastard on the operating table. Then she’ll see how much she has in common with her old man!”

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