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As a nurse, I’ve known wounds:
             Broad ones, suppurative, gaping with beefy granulation.
                          Deep, winding, gangrenous fistulas. 
Shallow weeping abrasions.
             Psychic purpled traumas,
                          roiling abuses, the aching eddies of neglect. 
I’ve seen delicate epithelial tissues,
             meandering a course between decay
                          and incremental healing. 
I’ve smelled foul discharges,
             heard crackling beneath bandages
                          heard mumbled tales of unfathomable violences. 

Years ago, in a lull in the Salvadoran war,
             I frequented a church where scores
                          had been disappeared under the repression.
After Mass, an ancient woman tugged my sleeve.
             She thanked me for coming, said, you extranjeros,
                          you foreigners, are like Santo Tomás. 
It was not enough to hear about El Salvador:
             you had to come to see us,
                          touch our wounds.

How to remain tactile and aware?
How to sustain a vision?
How to stockpile more gauze, more salve,
more therapeutic caresses, more nourishment for the journey?
To drag back up after every darkness, not looking away.


Robbie Gamble’s poems have appeared in the Atlanta Review, Whale Road Review, Cutthroat, RHINO, and Rust + Moth. He was the winner of the 2017 Carve Poetry prize. He worked for many years as a nurse practitioner caring for homeless people, and now divides his time between Boston and Vermont.

© 2021, Robbie Gamble

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