“Cow Skull,” Image by Jenn Rhubright
There was the knife and the broken syringe
then the needle in my hand, the Tru-Cut
followed by the night-blue suture.
The wall behind registration listed a man
with his face open. Through the glass doors,
I saw the sky going blue to black as it had
24 hours earlier when I last stood there gazing off
into space, into the nothingness of that town.
Bat to the head. Knife to the face. They tore
down the boy in an alleyway, the broken syringe
skittering across the sidewalk. No concussion.
But the face torn open, the blood congealed
and crusted along his cheek. Stitch up the faggot
in bed 6 is all the ER doctor had said.
Queasy from the lack of sleep, I steadied
my hands as best I could after cleaning up
the dried blood. There was the needle
and the night-blue suture trailing behind it.
There was the flesh torn and the skin open.
I sat there and threw stitch after stitch
trying to put him back together again.
When the tears ran down his face,
I prayed it was a result of my work
and not the work of the men in the alley.
Even though I knew there were others to be seen,
I sat there and slowly threw each stitch.
There were always others to be seen. There was
always the bat and the knife. I said nothing,
and the tears kept welling in his eyes.
And even though I was told to be “quick and dirty,”
told to spend less than 20 minutes, I sat there
for over an hour closing the wound so that each edge
met its opposing match. I wanted him
to be beautiful again. Stitch up the faggot in bed 6.
Each suture thrown reminded me I would never be safe
in that town. There would always be the bat
and the knife, always a fool willing to tear me open
to see the dirty faggot inside. And when they
came in drunk or high with their own wounds,
when they bragged about their scuffles with the knife
and that other world of men, I sat there and sutured.
I sat there like an old woman and sewed them up.
Stitch after stitch, the slender exactness of my fingers
attempted perfection. I sat there and sewed them up.
C. Dale Young practices medicine full-time, serves as Poetry Editor of the New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. He is the author of The Day Underneath the Day (TriQuarterlyBooks, 2001), The Second Person (Four Way Books, 2007), and Torn (Four Way Books, 2011). He is a previous winner of the Grolier Prize, the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, both the Stanley P. Young Fellowship and Amanda Davis Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. He lives in San Francisco with his spouse the biologist and composer, Jacob Bertrand.
“Torn” from TORN (c) 2011 by C. Dale Young. Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved. Read our review of TORN here.