'What on earth made you write The Gynaecologist's Wife?' is a question that readers keep asking me so this is the story behind the dark, sexy poem from my new book One Sixth of a Gill, a collection of shorts.
Like all the women I know, I hate going to the gynaecologist, even for a routine smear test; correction, especially for a routine smear. Even on those occasions I don't feel physical pain, I feel humiliated and assaulted. Add to that the embarrassment of being greeted by a doctor astounded, and then relieved, that I am a woman. As I now live in France and am called Jean, French people all assume that I am a man and then, when they meet me, they wonder whether I'm transexual. I'm not.
Be all this as it may, I am old enough to now have my strategies for dealing with what I consider to be a necessary evil. So, during an appointment at the gynaecologist, I'm in the usual embarrassing situation and pretending I'm a corpse in one of the CSI programmes we watch on TV. How do the actors keep their eyes wide and starey for so long? Stay so floppy-limbed? Hold their breath? I just don't have the skills and of course the gynaecologist himself wrecks the illusion by speaking to me and expecting me to look at weirdness on a computer screen and reply.
I would prefer a female gynaecologist but that's not an option. How does he keep any sexual curiosity about a woman's body? I wonder when he spends all day doing this? I think the routine procedure where the patient removes her undergarments behind a screen, out of the doctor's sight, is supposed to keep the procedure clinical. But does it? Human sexuality is complex. And then I imagine what it must be like for his wife. What she must wonder.
The poem wrote itself in my head during that appointment and, for once, I felt completely in control, not in the least bit affected by the medical goings-on, because I was fascinated by the intimate story of the gynaecologist and his wife. I sometimes see the two of them shopping together and smile because I know about their secret life. I will never again try to become invisible to avoid saying hello socially to the specialist in 'women's problems'. (Don't men have unmentionable problems? Don't they need a specialist? Or are men's problems so unmentionable they don't even have a euphemism?)
My gynaecologist is actually a very nice, professional man who has no idea what goes on in my head. And of course that's where the best part of sex takes place...
The Gynaecologist’s Wife
The problem’s not as you would think
his lust for clients but
his clinical detachment
naked in my bed.
And then I bought the screen,
I called him ‘Doctor’,
dropped my knickers out of sight
and offered him my full blown rose.
I asked my love - as women always have -
Am I all right? Am I as good as them? Am I?
And he said, yes, oh yes
and did without the gloves.
Why put a photo of a gangster to accompany the poem?
For me, one theme of the poem is the way a couple plays roles in their intimate relations so I liked this photo for the way the subject challenges the viewer/reader to enter into a film noir scenario. Who do you imagine you are when you are looking at the photo?
My Editor and I had many disagreements over the pairing of images with text; I found her too literal and she found me too bizarre in interpretation. We worked it out and the images which found their way into the book were all ones we both thought would provoke an emotional reaction, and pose questions about their relationships to the text. For us, there was always a connection, but we both hoped that readers would be interested enough to find a variety of interpretations - and that seems to be the case.
If you would like to hear 'the story behind' any of my work, just post a request in the comments or mail me and I'll include it in my programme.
The Gynaecologist's Wife was first published in the anthology Night Balancing (Blinking Eye)