- Taking the Cure
In 1849, when very ill, suffering from constant sickness,
he was urged by a friend to try the water-cure. . . .—Francis Darwin
Distress, complaint, a ligature of relief, the bowels ache and cannot disguise the pebble of grief carrying its limp to his brain. He was glad to be sitting. The coach nearer than away. Tea & toast waiting at Down when an old companion stepped in on leave with only astonishment delaying his greeting at meeting an old friend in such a state, a frail captive of his chair. The weather was not good. The barnacles he hoped Henslow would send would stay locked in their box while he vomited, saw spots, a last, faint white crust of winter trembling in him before it fell. He needed release from this grip. In every spoon he tasted a dyspeptic's dread. He remembered it now: the returning voyage, worse than learning German, the sour [End Page 46] wine of rough seas pouring its poison through him somewhere between Santiago and Valparaiso. He drank it. How the ship's surgeon dosed him with calomel. How the fever stayed an incurable stain never leaving his life— a proposition of labels and crates some servant might dismantle, a maze of bones, Polypi and filaments of the most vital crust, fragments of a mammoth he got scent of. It would be difficult not to live for that. Not to understand the story well enough to tell it. Only Dr. Gully could erase the pain, enliven the spirit, perhaps, collapsed in him. No one else could see this. A gout released and taken up by the blood. A troubling case. And then he vomited. Made notes, a diary of sickness, with morning on one side, night the other. A planet of headaches, boils and pain. The right treatment, he thought, might cleanse the sediments, unbind the patient, wash the wounds, disasemble the knot keeping him from his barnacles. He was thinking too much. The Doctor would make him wise on less. Less sugar, salt and stimulants. Even figs were too sweet a meat. In fact anything good. From now on Dr. Gully's Water Cure Establishment would rule. Tumblers of it, the sweet air of routine drinking him in. Up at seven. Drowned by nine in a cold sea of dripping [End Page 47] sheets, rubbings rough with cold and heat to clear the stream, unleash the circulation, do the trick and turn the patient, drown the disease or him. Wrapped in a cold attentiveness he improved, the nerves of his stomach less spastic, grew calm. Something shrank the pin in him. He bought a horse. Rode and walked the outline of hills, became a boy seizing every beetle again beneath its leaf, every day a calming, tolerable fact. He was pleased to be in this rain. So he let the idleness fill him, six weeks become months. But in a calm sea nothing moves. He felt the held breath of his work, syllables of wasted days. The pain no longer clung like a red leaf in him. Gone were the messy accumulations, the motionless days of an invalid, food untouched on its plate. He felt the clean washed loveliness of dawn, sparrows skimming the treetops, even the rain darkening fields. Wrapped in a patient cradle of hands and healing baths, that sure signature of cure came: he put on weight. The furor within him seemed still. He could move to the next page where his barnacles waited.
Brent Pallas lives and works in New York City as an illustrator and craft/home project designer for magazines. His poetry has appeared in the Southern Review, 2RV, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry, Gettysburg Review, the New England Review and other journals.