Baptism by Sarah Ang

Heavy is the frame that wears the gown,
runs the mantra through your head
as you slough off your armour of blue PPE gear,
run a shower – though the source of water
isn’t only from above.
Cue repeated scrubbing of hands
to cleanse the multitude of horrors
you can never quite escape.

Chin up, for there’s no time to grieve
for the graduation that never was;
the flowers you never received
in this baptism by virus.
No rest for the wicked,
or newly christened doctors,
in a global pandemic.

Try to keep your mind from wandering
to the grandmother you saw today,
lying motionless in the wards,
a flurry of coughs wracking her thin frame
like knives to the throat.
When she asks you how long she has to live,
each word a rasping struggle for breath,
you, too, are flailing for oxygen,
dread pooling like ink in your stomach
as the words clot in your veins.

See, your textbooks never covered the anatomy of loss;
or outlined proper procedures of comfort for the dying
forbidden from whispering last words to their loves
for fear of cross-contamination.
You never learned how to
stitch shards of broken families back together;
medical school never taught you how to
weigh the lives of the living and decide who to save.

Remember: death too wears a mask.
Outside, grown children wail for their mothers
like banshees in empty streets.
As you gaze into the void of night,
even the stars cry out.
Still their light shines,
brighter, somehow,
in the dark.

Sarah Ang is a 21-year-old writer from Singapore who currently studies at University College London. She has won multiple international awards for her writing, including first place in the Author of Tomorrow Award, first place in the iYeats International Poetry Competition (Emerging Category), first place in the IGGY LITRO Young Writer’s Prize, second place in the Walter Swan Poetry Prize, second place in the Blue Mountain Arts Poetry Competition and third place in the Ledbury Poetry Competition for Young People. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Mithila Review, Alexandria Quarterly, Medusa’s Laugh Press, the Claremont Review, Eunoia Review, Page & Spine and the Forest for the Trees Journal,  among others.