Henry Briffa – Above all do no harm

Henry Briffa LEP&W V4 Dec 2022

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Four December 2022.

Above all do no harm, poems by Henry Briffa.

Above all do no harm

time that moves with little fidget wheels is not our time
a clock with still hands rusts the past into our presence

I arrive at work that morning
to a woman at my door who I’d never met before

got her story in our seven minute phone call
I knew the dance the steps we’d make

woke with a premonition I’d waltz
some terrible mistake

the chill in Melbourne’s breeze
blows to our mausoleum from snow covered fields

as I step towards her she backs into the corner
cowering between me and my verandah door

keen to keep a distance fumble for my key
reaching for the lock move too near

mosquitoes return at nights to have bite after bite
some moments haunt like Duncan’s dagger

she infects me with a terror
borne the day her lover killed her

eyes plead forearms cover face to form her shield
3 bells toll for a woman who could once say – ‘don’t’

hi I’m sorry to have left you in the cold really sorry
that wind today brings a chill to your bones

at times words refuse to say just what I mean
she hears I fear some shadow intimating –

sorry I strangled you this chills us both
tried so hard to keep these hands some distance from
your throat

her ghost looks through me my open door
to the hour before us might she hold hope?


a delusion is evidence based
religion repeats these mistakes

He says I suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Mother survived the war in Malta,
back when the world was disordered,
it was ok to fear being hit by bombs.

He says the pandemic has been bad
for my mental health.
In his pre-Copernican lexicon
the problem revolves around me.

a delusion is evidence based
religion repeats these mistakes

I’m anxious of becoming ill
or losing a loved one.
Seems I either live in denial
or else be viewed as unwell.

Should I go into theatres without a mask ?
Stop social distancing?
Pretend the daily death toll is false?
Not bother about my next booster?

a delusion is evidence based
religion repeats these mistakes

I’m a tiny particle in a wide universe I infect
and depend on. Planetary shifts
unsettle me. Applying an illness model
to my mental health is nuts. My psychological
health can only be apprehended by analysing

my capacity for connectedness.
If I have flourishing relationships
with people and nature, shouldn’t I
be deemed to be in good health?
If I could just retain some healthy anxiety,

live with an appropriate degree of worry
and not be considered crazy,
the world might be a bit less mental.
Who knows, I may even help improve things.

© Henry Briffa

Henry Briffa, a Melbourne Psychologist, was shortlisted in the 2022 Australian Catholic University Poetry Prize and highly commended in the 2018 Queensland Poetry Festival Emerging Older Poets Mentorship Award. In 2019 his chapbook Walking Home was published by the Melbourne Poets Union  & he undertook a residency at Bundanon. He has had over 40 poems published in local & overseas journals including  Rabbit, Unusual Works  N-Scribe; Teesta and Golfo, and in anthologies including Australian Poetry Anthology and 9000 miles. His works have also appeared on a park bench, in Poems on Posters  (UWA), and Receipt Poetry (City of Yarra). Examples of his work can be accessed online at Mediterranean Poetry, the Disappearing, Live Encounters and on his website. His reviews have been published in Plumbwood Mountain, Live Encounters & Rochford St Press.

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