"Weapon Salve"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 14 2011 7:02 AM

"Weapon Salve"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Charles Harper Webb read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

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.