blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


audio version


The Incentive of the Maggot

The young nurses were summoned
by their mentor to examine gangrene.
Found on the living room floor
by her ex-husband, the patient was alcoholic,
abdomen septic, and now the extremities
were charred with rot. Unconscious,

systems stalling. The infection-fighting
drug caused blood, flowing to the organs,
to disregard the more distant pathways,

encouraging the gangrene. They make them look
at the uncurable, and struggle with the sense
of regimen, while we in the waiting room

wait for outcomes and the screen flashes
with the image of a small plane crashing,
then crashing again in slow motion,

a privately owned twin-engine tilting
at the runway cleared for its return.
Overheated room, everyone is nodding off.

Insurgents shot in Sri Lanka and Liberia.
Bones found nearby in the Neponset marshes.
So a young nurse, of a particular temperament,

may come to resent, may angrily refuse
to use grief for the purpose of edification.
She may feel contempt for a journalist’s catalogue

of atrocities, genitals beaten with a ruler.
Not because they are not actual,
but because someone looked and discovered nothing.

Flavius Josephus described the infirmities
of Herod the Great: incessant itching,
excruciating intestinal pain, breathlessness,

convulsions in every limb, rotting
of the genitalia. The brains behind
the Slaughter of the Innocents died of gangrene

in his penis and kidneys, says the voiceover.
Fournier’s gangrene, a rare variety.
But we will not have to look at the coffins

of our dead soldiers. They will not let us
gaze on their coffins, in transit.
Praise for the edict that will not permit

videotape to roll over the suddenly dead.
Praise for this moment of pause, of darkness,
of refusal to look at anything other

than the final report of the doctor on call,
the process of discreetly removing a corpse.
Not long ago I sat with a clairvoyant;

she said in my past life
I was slain on an English battlefield.
But others were saved by green blowflies,

their larvae made a soup in the gashes and rips,
dressed the wounds and farmed our flesh.
The survivors lay in a drowse of pain.

Timelessly they stirred, rose up, staggered in boots
and quickened their steps, as if they had discarded
the dead parts of themselves.  

(reprinted by permission of Houghton-Mifflin Company)

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