The Old Operating Theatre, London,
All Souls Night
To rooms like this old resurrections
returned the bodies they had disinterred –
fresh corpses so fledging anatomists
could study Origin and Insertion points
of deltoids, pecs, trapezius and count
the vertebrae, the ball & socket joints.
And learn the private parts and Latin names
by which the heart becomes a myocardium,
the high cheek bone as zycomer, the brain,
less prone to daydream as a cerebellum.
And squirming in their stiff, unflinching seats,
apprentice surgeon witnessed, in the round,
new methods in advanced colostomy,
the amputation of gangrenous limbs
and watched as Viennese lobotomists
banished the ravings of a raving man
but left him scarred and drooling in a way
that made them wonder was a much improved?
But here the bloodied Masters taught dispassionate
incision - how to suture and remove.
In the rooms like this, the Greeks and Romans staged
their early dramas. Early Christians knelt
and hand at the liturgies when it was held
that prayer and penance were the only potions.
Ever since Abraham, guided by God,
first told his tribesman of the deal he made –
there foreskins for the ancient Covenant –
good medicines meant letting human blood.
Good props include the table and the blade.
Good theatre is knowing where to cut.
From Still Life in Milford
Poems by Thomas Lynch
Jonathan Cape, London
W.W. Norton & Company New York, London