Rather than swab out wounds black
with gangrene, learning how shoulders look
deprived of arms, and the way maces interact
with heads, the medieval doctor might
choose to medicate what caused the injury.
How much more pleasant than screams
and groans, thrashing and pleas, to settle
some patient sword on a soft bed, anointing
its silver length, its jeweled forehead.
Spared daily bleedings, and the unguents
of rat pellets and fermented chicken blood
that were state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals,
sometimes a wounded knight would heal.
In the dark infirmary, out of earshot of the court,
sometimes the bloody stump would mend,
the smashed thigh, knit; the septic fever, break;
and the knight, limp downstairs to his old
place at the feast. Then everyone would give
the doctor—already paid a lump of gold
big as a unicorn's heart—three cheers,
which I suggest you give for your lost love.
Don't pain yourself, picturing all we do.
If I'm the sword that laid you low, every caress
and loving word she gives to me, heals you.
Charles Harper Webb's latest book is Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems. A new book, What Things Are Made Of, is forthcoming in 2013. He teaches in the creative writing program at California State University, Long Beach.
For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click spacerhereyeshyperlinkPoetry SubmissionsSlate reads new poems from Oct. 1 to April 30. Manuscripts sent between May 1 and Sept. 30 will not be considered.To submit poems: Send, as a single attached document, up to three poems of no more than 50 lines each to firstname.lastname@example.org. Use the poet's name for the subject line of the e-mail and for the title of the attachment. We prefer Word documents (.doc or .docx) to PDFs.Please include a brief, professional cover letter, including publication history, in the body of your email. Please limit submissions to one per poet per annual reading period. Simultaneous submissions are OK. Slate no longer accepts poetry submissions by mail. The email address email@example.com is for poetry submissions only (or to notify editors of acceptance elsewhere of a poem under consideration at Slate). Other inquiries, etc., will not be addressed.10000false220061444537PMWednesdayJanJanuary161/4/2006 9:45:37 PM63271989937000000020061444537PMWednesdayJanJanuary161/4/2006 9:45:37 PM632719899370000000.Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.Click here for an archive of discussions about poems with Robert Pinsky in "the Fray," Slate's reader forum.