Before God and those assembled here, I pledge:
I will check the screen tracing your heart rhythm –
the beep steady as a bird’s call from the shadows.
I will tie your gown, so faithfully strong
it won’t show your bare back, your leaf-like keloid.
Only filtered air will stroke your unwashed hair.
I will carry out to the best of my ability
my nocturnal duties – the warm Horlicks,
the call bell, the ajar door. I will devote
my midnight listening to you, hum the song
that lessens the weight of my eyelids.
I will attend to the sound of your bare feet
as they touch the sticky floor. In the morning
I will explain what the cylindrical bottles are for;
without a word, you’ll unbend your arm to me.
My fingertip will search for the strongest vein.
I will not do anything evil. The defib pads
will fly out of the metal drawer, I will slap them
on your chest: one on the right, below the clavicle,
the other on the left, just under the armpit.
I will be the first one to greet you, Welcome back.
Even if I know you’d rather go. I will not reveal
the story of your life, how your daughter left
when she learned your diagnosis.
I will devote my hours listening to things
you do not have to say. I will maintain
the prestige of my profession, but release
a wild laugh when I find you pretend
choking on your egg-white tablets
so I will rub your back.
A version of this poem is a part of the prize-winning manuscript in Manchester Poetry Prize 2017.