by Atar Hadari
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.