Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview

A Partial Ledger: Dr. C.D. Bennett

The 11th of July 1914—
and a leper is made as clean as this:

in a log house on a tobacco farm in a storeless
churchless mostly roadless place they call

Flint Hill—a bed by the window for whatever
air moves from the field through it: this one

comes into the world scrawny and will be
small—worried over—then tall and thin—

that thick shock of black hair for now a glossy
patent crowning the day before him—

a first entry—live infant—the flesh
untouched and scarless—the body unfolding

as though for the first time in my hands—no part
that was not made to open
open: and the breath

in the mouth of the deaf mute something I am
not to doubt can be opened at just the words—

I am not to doubt what words can open: he cannot
hear them first to know what they mean: like placing

a hand to a closed door—the palm can sense
the fire or cold behind it: I can smell

the sugar on the breath: I wear my thermometer
in my watch pocket—encased in chased aluminum

on a chain—its glass having lain beneath
all their tongues—its mercury having measured

their fevers: no instruments for seeing in—
I watch with the naked eye to mark where the mercury

reaches—look at the white of the eye—the aperture
of the pupil—the back of the throat: and so I listen

to what courses along the capillary bore
of the stethoscope—a closeness I can feel

in the eardrum: the sound of the bowels, of the heart: pneumonia
I have come to hear as the old person’s friend—

the way the breathing goes away quiet
as in a drowning in a pond—an angel

from it I listen for in the lungs:
everyone has
owed me for this—for something—the years of bleeding

ceased—crooked bones made straight—and they have paid—
telling everyone—as I told them not to—

with buttermilk (quarts)—berries (pecks)—greens (messes)—
eggs and eggs—chickens—some alive—some

dressed for the oven—perishables—all
here—recorded: when they have little they name

their sons for me—when they have nothing—let me
name their daughters:
in the King James: a ginkgo

leaf tied and knotted surgical-neat with red thread
to a wild violet pressed deep into the text—

I have forgotten the why of some miracle
underlined—all the miracles underlined—

every one I thought to be instructive—
must have thought to memorize:
now I make

my own accounts—drawings—eye-drafts of maladies—
and I harvest what I can—gall stones—kidney stones—

a ganglion cyst—necrotic finger—
all bottled in formaldehyde—labeled

by date and name—lessons for someone else
I shelve behind the textbooks—behind all

the possibilities—my ended causes:
with the consumption—fever—the faithless blind—

the influenza: there is the time the lightning
strikes the plow and kills the mule and the one

behind the mule: the time it strikes a nail
at the back of the head of someone leaning against

a country store—out on the porch just to watch
the storm blow in—the body blown out of its chair—

its shoes: the time a boy is feeding sugarcane
into the press and he feeds his hand into it

too—and the mule keeps moving like the hour hand
on a clock face: they have to coax it to back up

as though to undo the hour that cannot be
undone: the hand I can save—a withered thing

for the handle of a hoe—but cannot reverse
any more than I can the wasting

despair that comes with the hoe blade—that one
dull tooth working the shell it will never

break through: and still I consider the text:
spitting on the ground—my spittle a wet-

shimmering pearl in the dust—and with the clay I make of it
I place it on the eyes and tell the man

to wash in a pond he has never seen, and ask him:
what do you see? as you ought?: and I will let that

be the first thing that he sees: his face
in a pool of clearest water—then—

trees walking across it—toward me.  end  

return to top