Poem 9: 4/15/01



"...Hippocrates, the great-grandfather of modern medicine, dropped in on Democritus, the great-grandfather of atomic physics. He found Democritus sitting in a garden with the bodies of dead beasts cut open all around him. Democritus was sleeping and waking over his notes, trying to find the cause of melancholy, so that he could cure it in himself and teach others to cure it too. It was the first attempt at the dissection of behavior, approximately twenty-five centuries too soon."
                                                                         Jonathan Weiner,
Time, Love, Memory


Dusk, Athens, fifth century B.C.
Democritus stares as the sun sinks
somewhere beyond the Gulf of Corinth,
past where he imagines the Ionian Islands
break the great emptiness of blue and green.
Out there, he thinks, squinting, as if he might see
a place where loneliness is less, lighter,
where he will not wince in the spray of waves.

As he shuffles to his garden he hears the animals
bray in the gathering darkness, strange cries even before
he begins. The first cut is an effort, but after that
the blade feels sharper, his hand, stronger.
Shrieks cover the snap of breaking bones.
All night, under the web of stars, he moves
through a tangle of tendons and veins
only to discover more hearts, livers, lungs.
He cannot find sadness.

Before Hippocrates opens the gate, he knows something
is wrong. He steps into the garden and is swallowed by
the smell. And the silence. His sandals sink and slide
in the slick grass as he moves toward the heavy breaths
of his sleeping friend, hunched over a single sentence
in the blood-soaked pages: Some things are uncuttable.
The words echo on his lips as birds stir the dawn.

© 2000 Jeff Berger-White


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