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Literary Old Operating Theatre Museum

The Old Operating Theatre, London,

All Souls Night


Thomas Lynch

To rooms like this old resurrections

returned the bodies they had disinterred –

fresh corpses so fledging anatomists

could study Origin and Insertion points

of deltoids, pecs, trapezius and count

the vertebrae, the ball & socket joints.

And learn the private parts and Latin names

by which the heart becomes a myocardium,

the high cheek bone as zycomer, the brain,

less prone to daydream as a cerebellum.

And squirming in their stiff, unflinching seats,

apprentice surgeon witnessed, in the round,

new methods in advanced colostomy,

the amputation of gangrenous limbs

and watched as Viennese lobotomists

banished the ravings of a raving man

but left him scarred and drooling in a way

that made them wonder was a much improved?

But here the bloodied Masters taught dispassionate

incision - how to suture and remove.

In the rooms like this, the Greeks and Romans staged

their early dramas. Early Christians knelt

and hand at the liturgies when it was held

that prayer and penance were the only potions.

Ever since Abraham, guided by God,

first told his tribesman of the deal he made –

there foreskins for the ancient Covenant –

good medicines meant letting human blood.

Good props include the table and the blade.

Good theatre is knowing where to cut.

Thomas Lynch

From Still Life in Milford

Poems by Thomas Lynch

Jonathan Cape, London

W.W. Norton & Company New York, London