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Into mask territory

This is mask territory, take care.

Finding myself on the other side now

I lift one from the box and wear it,

my patient face muffled in stuffy fabric.

Your full name and date of birth, please

is confirmed with several heads

seated behind plastic screens

at a succession of counters,

then I take the clipboard of questions

that want numbers rather than stories

– tick the boxes, vote for yes or no –

to wait among the subdued and patient.

The ticky-click of crutches passes,

then a lumbering moonboot,

an old hunch pushing a frame

but for most, the need is less scrutable

as we’re channelled along an assembly line –

through the cold efficiency of x-ray

next a focused surgeon’s assessment

blood tests with a tech from Macedonia

and a shy student nurse taking measurements

then upstairs to strip for an ECG

where an angel hovers over my pale

chest with her little sticky post-it tabs.

Fully processed, I emerge from the overheated

clinic to reward myself with coffee,

having secured a spot on a waiting list

in an ever hopeful elastic queue.

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