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The Gender of the Hands of Whoever Comes Walking

Elisabeth Harvor
From:   The Long Cold Green Evenings of Spring. Vehicule Press, 1997

At the doctor's house:
pneumonia at fourteen.

Someone comes in
in the dark to lay a
cool hand on my forehead.

The doctor's wife: I can't see her face,
I can only see the face of her watch,
set in its band of silver scales

and gleaming selectly
in the hallway's faint light.

Now and then the doctor
comes too, to give me my shot,
although often the shot is given
to me in my sleep,

a bee sting in a dream
in which, perspiring and desperate,

I'm climbing a hill or running.
Then someone is coughing
and I wake up shaking

and frightened to see
a man's face looming horribly
above a small flashlight.

I can hear a nurse
is with him, I can hear
a wind in the starch of her apron
as she walks, I can see

a watery gold hoop
of light reflected high up,

the way it keeps wobbling
close to her apron's waistband

as she bows down in the dark
to hold a small glass with a

clear syrup in it
pressed to my lips.

"Linctus codeine," I hear
the man say, "it'll do the trick
every time." They seem to be
such a tight little unit,

even closer than lovers
and after they leave me, I sleep
for what feels like many days and nights.

I dream about the early days
at the doctor's house, dream
of the wall of yellow leaves

hiding the houses the
hospital rents out to the nurses,
dream of a windstorm that

blows all the leaves south,
so that the following morning,
hurrying to school,

I can see into the sunlit backs
of the nurses' gardens, but then I am
all at once at school, as if by bad magic
I am at school and I am supposed to
know the answer to something and don't,
and one of the doctors comes
into the classroom (but by now
it's the examination room,
the examination room
with my bed in it,

I'm the only student
who will be writing the exam
from a bed), the doctor
tells me I'll have to

drink a cup of hot ginger ale
and then some people are

laughing and I want them to
stop because the noise is

making my throat hurt.
But then the days turn
into days again and I start to
be aware of the gender of the
hands of whoever comes walking
through the sanatorium gardens
to give me my shot. Most often

it's a cool dry male
hand that shoves my nightgown
high up on the brow of my hip,

then presses the hand's heel
against my hipbone

while the thumb
makes a decisive

compass swing
down my right flank to
locate the point where the
injection is to be given.

y buttocks,
being assessed for the shot,

feel suddenly shy
as if all my bashfulness has
rushed to collect itself down in them.

There is something
shamefaced too, something
with too much shocked
self-rebuke in it,

in the quick way
the doctors yank down
my nightgown after the shot.

It's as if my shyness
makes me unworthy
of their shyness--

as if my shyness is
only childish and silly,

while theirs is tensely
adult and aloof.

With a winced thrill
that above all seems to

crave to keep itself
down in that part of my body
where I feel it the most,

I dwell on that embarrassed
male quickness all

the long afternoons.

Elisabeth Harvor's works copyright © to the author.

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