≡ Menu

Three Poems

Humpty Dumpty Asks What Happened

While you wandered through anesthetic dreams,
they shaved your head sleek as a hard-boiled egg,
carved a curved incision into its side,
and pulled your jaw muscle up to the roots,
drilled open your skull and set the jigsaw
pieces, carefully, where they could find them.
Then they shoved your brain over to make room
for their descent into the dark labyrinth
behind your ear, where they plucked the tumor’s
radiant gem hiding within a mine shaft.
The rest was tape, glue, a couple of screws.
One small piece they couldn’t put back in place.
Hold out your hand. Here. Take it. Just in case.


A Ghazal for Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi
“Without doubt Albucasis was the chief of all surgeons” ~ Pietro Argallata (15th century)

I’ve spent my life trying to see inside,
to work out how it works, the body inside.

In bed, the princess spins out of her sleep,
her tumor the size of a pea inside,

but my scalpel casts out the girl’s demon;
now her nightly dreams can roam free inside.

What a miraculous jewel, the brain,
its tendrilled nerves like filagree inside.

Al-Razi says the brain’s fluid is clear,
but to me it’s the color of ghee inside.

If spirits mix with matter, souls in skin,
there’s blood on my hands. I speak my plea inside.

One thing I know: with screw or saw or knife,
you must write your violence gently inside.

Keep searching, Abu, what do you hope to find?
The signature of the almighty inside?


A Visitation
for Allan and Betsy

Out of hospital after surgery,
my head still spinning and newly scarred,
I visited with friends, expecting merely
to contemplate the vague features of their yard.

Instead a sudden whirlwind of feathers
and a flash of color against the lawn:
goldfinches congregating by the feeder,
ecstatic chorus of sunlight and song.

To my dizzy eyes their bodies seemed to blur
into a shimmering tongue of flaming gold,
their glow all the brighter because obscure,
a brief gift the nearly blind behold.

Perhaps all this is just evidence of my frail
body, nothing else, but visions like these
can leave inside our hearts a gleaming trail
we will return by when we have the need

to see the heaven just before us,
to have our world made new, its outlines blurred,
divisions once clear now wholly porous
between what is a spirit and what a bird.

Evan Gurney is still picking up the pieces in the mountains of North Carolina.