The Human Genre Project

The Oncologists

(After Three Oncologists by Ken Currie, 2002)

Veiled in shafts of light,
harbingers of death or life,
the oncologists pause before
the theatre’s dark curtains
like backstage actors,
shrouded in black.

Surgical masks sag
round their chins.
At the frontier of fear,
experts in tumours, code,
they have the faces of men
who have seen it all.

These three spectral guardians,
I hope I never meet them.
But I know the spiral helix,
I know the one-in-three.

Note: The Oncologists is a response to a haunting painting in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery by Ken Currie. In it he shows Sir Alfred Cuschieri, Professor R J Steele and Sir David P Lane, who is best known for his discovery of the p53 gene, whose normal function is important in preventing cells from turning malignant and is also referred to as the 'guardian of the genome'.

Patricia Ace