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The Wound Dresser

This poem first ran in the Spring 2015 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This poem first ran in the Spring 2015 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

Soft, late at night,
 by the late star light,
  you can see the wound dresser

going round the camp,
 tallowy lamp in his hand
  and its flame leaf yellow,

opening tent stays
 with his silken paws—
  the camp men say he has the softest fingers

of any nurse you’d know—
 as he makes his slow
  rounds, beard gold as the pissed-on snow.

He has linen bands stretched out in his hands,
 cut from fringes of Dixieland
  dresses of long ago

ladies’ sashays round the ballroom floor—
 he has the finest dress sense
  of any bandager you ever saw.

Where he found dresses—out on the field since Vicksburg—
 or where he finds clean tables
  to cut gowns on, who in hell knows—

you seen a bench since Vicksburg
 that didn’t have the blood in each joint
  deep inside its every piece of wood?

I haven’t seen a surgeon
 could find a plate to lay a saw on
  or a needle to sew belly since before Bull Run.

He comes, he shows the soldiers
 pictures of the stars and rivers
  he tells them his songs and shivers
   with them—till they cry.

He leaves sometimes at first light,
 goes on to the next bedside,
  the lamp in his palm near doused
   by the sky so bloody with the night.

He turns sometimes at first cock
 or looks as first clouds break rank
  and let the dawn shower pay back
   ground for all the blood put in the rain.

He turns and he sees sunrise
 unfold from some soul’s dead eyes
  that open as the wetlands
   flower underneath his empty hands,

with nothing left but flowers
 in the soldier’s open blank stares
  as the daybreak leaves them beauty but no breath.

He turns and you see murmurs
 cross his mouth like fixed battalions,
  those ragged crossing lines at Vicksburg
   marching toward the maize.

He turns and he walks sunrise
 out to cornfields with the bedpans,
  and he empties all those hours

of the night into the flowers
 beside the camp with words so soft,
  so soft, of what he heard them wish.

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Imagine Dallas

The Grackle is a production of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Imagine Dallas Literary Arts, Inc.