“The Wounded Soldier”

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 28 2012 6:00 AM

“The Wounded Soldier”

“The Wounded Soldier”. Ratisbonne, Austria, 1916.
Ratisbonne, Austria, 1916.

Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

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

Now I have a scar down the middle,
like the seam where a pressed tin toy,
a bird or a dog, comes together.
What intimacies, that the doctor
has seen my clockwork. Has had
his hands inside my softness.
Who’s after me this time?
Napoleon, Bismarck?
Patroklos, the lovely doomed.
I could lie here
in the fragrance of naphtha.

During my worst sickness
I was so lost and hungry
that I went out of myself
into the north hills and over the ice

and only a family of bears
had pity on me. They had taken off
their skins and hung them up
in the hallway, and without them
they looked just like men. Their children
looked just like our children.
For me they boiled meat,

though they ate it raw themselves.
What courtesy. When they were sending
me home they said, Don’t tell the other men
about us; we have children and they deserve
to grow up
. They lifted the dark medal
from over my heart. It’s better
to breathe deeply than to be praised.

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Katherine Hollander is a poet, critic, and doctoral candidate in modern European history.