Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Ignes Fatui of the neurotic mind

Ashten R. Duncan
Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States


Rocking in my vessel sturdy
Upon the waters of a swamp so dirty,
I am in the crow’s nest
En route to my impending test.

Ever since I was young,
I have been given to the far-flung:
Quiet panic of a possible foe,
Wishes to never disturb another’s flow.

In the confines of the nest,
I am inclined to take a rest.
However, on an eve such as this,
I espy something, something amiss.

Flicker, flicker . . .

Flicker, flicker . . .

I have often heard the tales
Of the mariners phlegmatic:
Be cautious of the White Whales
But more so of objects static!

I stared again—from my place—
And, again, I glimpsed there apace
A vague fire burning in the air.
Could it be aware?

Flicker, flicker . . .

Is it real? A chance of true danger?
Do I cause myself more harm
Trying to envisage the idle stranger?
Drawing nearer, I am given to alarm.

My heart’s pace hastens, so
Too do my lungs grow tight.
My vision narrows
As my mind is set a-flight.

What is it?
What could it be?
Some unlikely possibility?

Now, I succumb to the anxiety!

Flicker, flicker . . .
Flicker, flicker . . .

What is he thinking?

And what about her?

Have I accidentally ruined my chances?

What if I am wrong? Will they think less of me?

Is past prologue? How can I be sure? Luck’s always there . . .

Still an enigma it remains
As I rip at the hairs of my brow
Trying to calculate the gains
And what I should now.

Flickering, flickering,
The light is so sickening.
As its vicinage I approach,
I realize there’s naught to encroach.

I settle into my post,
Exhausted from what had transpired.
My eyes and mind are now primed
For the next eerie fire.

Yellow flames on dark background. Roberto Pasini. CC BY-SA 2.0.







ASHTEN DUNCAN, MPH, is a third-year medical student at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine. His research interests include hope theory, burnout in medical education, and applied positive psychology. Passionate about creative writing and what it represents, he has written essays, op-eds, fiction, and poems that have appeared in the following fora: KevinMD.com, in-Training.org, “The Lived Experience” column, Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine, The Practical Playbook II: Building Multisector Partnerships That Work, Scientific American, Tulsa World, Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, and others.


Spring 2020  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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