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Syphiloderma Ulcerativum Perforans
Private collection of John Wood
Overwhelmed by her days, her neighbors' talk
and her son's shame, she goes about her house
as she has always done, doing the things
that she has always done the usual things
women do: turning melon rinds and plums
into preserves, canning peppers and peas,
and hanging laundry on the lines, dusting,
and in the evening sitting down to read,
often on the porch when the weather was
porch-weather and the light lingered longer.
Her son seldom writes anymore, but knows
that she must have gotten it from Papa,
who left last year, saying her "cold, bleak ways"
had burst his heart. Of course, that wasn't it,
but she knew nothing of other women.
And so sadness tumbled into her eyes,
balked and stranded there. The headaches began,
then ulcerations, the decay. Her lips
pulled down with the weight of her thought. She quit
the church: too many whispers and too quick
the silence when she entered any room;
no one could talk to her without staring
into the center of her face. And some
would even ask, "Oh, Mrs. So and So,
have you heard from that nice husband of yours
lately? He's still on that job; where was it?
Ohio? And such a good man. Pity
he hasn't come home yet." Blame everywhere.
And nothing she could say to anyone.
She's kept his picture, a rose he gave her
she pressed into a book of Tennyson's,
a closet of his clothes and pairs of shoes.
She recalls what she thought were glittering days:
a son in her arms, a husband smiling,
the talk of all they would do together,
all the yesterdays they swore would sustain
every tomorrow through the calendars'
slow, relentless erosion of the world.
Now, here at its quiet limits, she withers
slowly, a shadow roaming like a dream.
John Wood Endurance and Suffering: Narratives of Disease in the 19th Century (Edition Galerie Vevais, 2009) [Note: First edition is dated March 2007 but was published in October 2008.]