duck chocolate and tapas

This piece is taken from an unpublished collection drawing on my experiences working in the field of psychiatry, tentatively entitled ‘The New Asylum’, currently being developed into book format in collaboration with my wife Leanne Murphy.

we’re opening
with tapas
but I don’t know what tapas is

in a faux-spanish restaurant
there are seven of us
a small gathering
drawing breath
in the middle of a crowded week

and it begins with a platter
of marinated ribs
some sort of fried calamari rings
cheese and special-sauce potatoes

they call it tapas


a mother
out near seymour
on the edge of the catchment
is staring at her meal

the food tonight
came out of the freezer
but it wasn’t touched
by either of them

it’s been pushed now
towards the centre
of the dining room table

she’s still dressed in her better clothes
hasn’t changed
it was a long trip to the hospital
and she’s too weary to bother

the boy
her young man
was a mess today
still so



she thinks
thank god he’s in the inpatient unit
but what are they doing for him
he isn’t getting any better
what can they do

this is the worst
it’s ever been

what’s going to happen

she cries silently
and knows even as she weeps
that she’s the strongest of them
it will destroy her husband

she is the stronger
and she is weeping

wishes they hadn’t visited
perhaps it will be better


the deep red
is a delicious warmth
and the conversation flows

a joke about the service

a word about the practice of medicine

thoughtful comment
on the demography of the area
how we differ
from the adjoining catchments
rural versus metropolitan

familiar faces pass by
to settle at neighbouring tables
and there’s a comfort to be found
a sense of belonging in this place
on this evening

our rural city seems
undisturbed by the fall of night
the waiter has removed the tapas
platter empty
and now

we’re now waiting for the mains
it’s all very pleasant

the last olive
was mine


things are jumping
on the unit

it’s full up
no beds
but there’s another patient
with an overdose
a psychosis


it doesn’t really matter what
there’s always another one
and tonight there’ll be a blue about it
the night shift aren’t happy with the triage team
and they make a stand

if you want to leave another patient with us
you better find extra staff
because we haven’t got enough
and we won’t do it

I don’t care who says so
we’ve got enough to do
keeping that young yahoo you just brought in
under control

if there’s no extra staff
there’s no going over-numbers
welcome aboard for the night shift

don’t worry 
the manager can sort it out 

our job is to keep that crazy bugger
under some sort of control


chocolate duck is an unusual dish
rich and rewarding

our table is silent now

there’s only the clinking of cutlery
an occasional appreciation
and the sound of an ambulance
disappearing into the distance

idle thoughts
idle thoughts
I always stray back to the job

the petty worries I can do nothing about
but can’t help over-working

the main dishwasher
in the unit’s kitchen
has broken down
what will it do to the budget
if I replace it

is there a choice

perhaps I should raise the salary level
of the new nurse
he’s working out well enough

they’ll be short-staffed in the morning
the roster’s deficient
I hope someone’s put their hand up
to fill in for the absentees

I wonder if the sickies are real
or just bludging

might need some help with that one

fingers crossed the boy from seymour
doesn’t cause too much grief
he’ll be a bugger till we can get the drugs
out of his system

his drugs out
our drugs in

oh well

it’s all pointless
I can’t do anything until tomorrow
and talk at our table is starting up again

this has been a nice way
to end the day
tapas and all

I still don’t know
what tapas means but
I might get to work it out

© Frank Prem, 2008

Another in this series, featuring the ‘boy from seymour’ (referred to in the poem above) is This Somebody’s Boy.

7 thoughts on “duck chocolate and tapas

  1. I can’t imagine the sense of frustration and hopelessness of having to juggle, and make choices, “either or” … in situations where one would hope to have more available resources etc. But you’ve really captured the contradictions, the dissonance of the realities …. from multiple perspectives …. and the sense of unease, the perhaps reluctant acceptance, all depicted as “ordinary” life continues, and yet, beneath the simple facade of a meal …. how the truths can be so unsettling …. great and very powerful writing here Frank🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • well sometimes, as you’ve said, it’s when one is no longer in the thick of things, that by examining and thinking on it, some sense of closure, or at least understanding can come of it. Hopefully this helps you work through whatever still lingers and affords you a means of expressing what you need to say.

        Liked by 1 person

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