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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

One more thing

You have given so much to me.
Give me one thing more—a grateful heart.

— George Herbert

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All be thanks

Let your last thinks all be thanks.

— W.H. Auden

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Man invented cooking before he thought of nutrition. To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste.

Pills indeed! Some day, no doubt, the dreadful offspring of that hapless couple will invent flavorless capsules which, when swallowed, will give the user a complete command of any desired language. Let us hope only that when he does, the sane among us will lobby for a law to keep such people from writing poems. Language is no utilitarian abstraction; English, French, Greek, and Latin are concrete delights, relishings by which the flavor of words and syntax are rolled over the tongue. And so in their own way are all the declensions and conjugations of beef, lamb, pork, and veal. Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of cliches. It takes playfulness to make poetry.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection 

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“Admission, Children’s Unit” by Theodore Deppe

Like the story of St. Lawrence that repelled me
when I heard it in high school, how he taught
his disciples to recognize the smell
of sin, then sent them in pairs through the Roman Empire,
separating good from evil, brother from brother.
Scrap of legend I’d forgotten until, interviewing a woman,
I drew my breath in and smelled
her, catching a scent that was there, then not there.

She said her son set fire to his own room,
she’d found him fanning it with a comic, and what
should she have done? Her red hair
was pulled back in a braid, she tugged at its flames,
and what she’d done, it turns out, was hold her son
so her boyfriend could burn him with cigarettes.
The details didn’t, of course, come out at first,
but I sensed them. The boy’s refusal to take off his shirt.
His letting me, finally, lift it to his shoulders
and examine the six wounds, raised, ashy, second
or third degree, arranged in a cross.

Silence in the room, and then the mother blaming
the boyfriend, blaming the boy himself.
I kept talking to her in a calm voice, straining
for something I thought I smelled beneath
her cheap perfume, a scent–how can I describe this?–
as if something not physical had begun to rot.

I’d like to say all this happened when I first started
to work as a nurse, before I’d learned not to judge
the parents, but this was last week, the mother was crying,
I thought of handing her a box of tissues, and didn’t.

When the Romans crucified Lawrence,
he asked Jesus to forgive him for judging others.
He wept on the cross because he smelled his own sin.

Sullen and wordless, the boy got up, brought his mother
the scented, blue Kleenex from my desk,
pressed his head into her side. Bunching
the bottom of her sweatshirt in both hands,
he anchored himself to her. Glared at me.
It took four of us to pry him from his mother’s arms.

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Part XII from “The Cadaver” by Alice Jones

Having fed like a worm on the bones of the dead
or like a bird, on the body’s worms,
you grow large and leave home
prepared for your adult life
of minding the sick, performing
technical procedures on the dying.
You know where you are
when, after your young patient dies,
you go to the morgue, see them place
her on the elevated metal table,
hear the dozens of aluminum-tipped ends
of her cornrowed braids clatter
as they fall away limply
from her blue-lipped face. You watch
her resilient skin give way
under the bright blade as they open
the large flaps of her body’s walls,
sever the great vessels, lift out
her heart and lungs in one piece,
hung from the cartilage handle
of her trachea. You recite the branches
as they trace her pulmonary arteries
searching for the clot that killed her.
On the hospital wards, there are moments
that remind you of the lab, when you tell
the old man to turn his head, so you can
insert the needle in his jugular, enter beside
the belly of the sternocleidomastoid.
You know how it wraps its tendon
along the clavicle, feel the vein’s
sheath give, watch the paper drape
over his breathing face lift for a second,
then you forget again that this meat
you dig in is warm and pulsing,
as you aim your precise hand
at the visible landmarks of the unseen world
whose map now lies in your mind.

 

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Part XI from “The Cadaver” by Alice Jones

So how do they dispose of the bodies,
you asked, rinsing scraps off your hands,
down the drain of the stainless-steel sink,
where you’d washed the sludge out
of the large bowel so you could examine
haustral markings and the cecal valve.
They said all the parts
are saved for burial or cremation
and you wondered how they know
who’s who, if all these people
commingle in death, fill
each other’s graves. You imagine
the burning bodies looking
like those from the dog lab
after you dumped them into
the hospital’s main incinerator—
the sudden brushfire of fur
and skin, the flames folding
into the dark evacuated cavities
to be extinguished there
or at high heat eat through
the smooth-surfaced walls,
leaving ignited patches of bone.
You want to utter some blessing
when you pull up the sheet the last time,
over his familiar body. You wonder
if you’ll think of him, your model
of death, when you fold mottled hands
across your chest as it ceases to rise
and fall, as you exhale from the bottom
of your lungs and the air grows still
in the small caverns of your nostrils,
as heartbeats dissolve into fibrillation,
muscle fibers lock, all sphincters
give way and you drop to room temperature,
your dilated eyes gazing at nothing.

 

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Part IX from “The Cadaver” by Alice Jones

Gauze towels swathe the head,
resembling some bedouin’s
or mummy’s, and all of you
choose to keep the covers on
after that one first look
at this most human of parts
with its soft bony planes,
places you know have been stroked,
kissed, the flare of nostrils,
the frail curve of eyelid,
the glimpse of pink tongue.
Your group stands and looks, uncertain
in their own bodies, so you volunteer
and make the tentative first cuts
across the scalp, then finding it tough
and thick as grapefruit rind,
cut more deeply, down to the fibrous layers.
You quarter it, slide the blade’s
handle end in to separate the fascia
attachments, making a velcro-like sound.
You bare the rounded bones, peel
the edges of scalp down past the eyebrows,
with relief, you cover the eyes,
and wait for the diener to come
with his bone saw, which in its noisy
harmlessness stops at flesh
and only cuts denser stuff.
You watch him prop the head
to saw the horizontal circle,
making a smell of burned bone,
then take his chisel, whack it
for the final pop, like the sound
of a coconut cracked open,
and on this last hinge, lift
the shallow ivory bowl to expose
the familiar convolutions
of grey matter that your brain
will begin to examine.

 

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