- Linnaeus’s Patient
To cure I had to touch without knowing what touch would do. I had to ease his trousers down and see the mucus, shiny and constant on his swollen sex, the red pustules burning to break, the one vein nourishing the sickness's need. And when he finally lay bare, I had to percuss the first abdomen, spleen, and liver of my life. I had never touched a man this way; I had never known a woman. What I had learned of sex was for plants, not men.
As I watched the base of him drift from one side to the other I thought of the pepperbush standing as straight as physics will permit; of the tall willows swaying beneath the northern lights. I loved that sway, that drift, and the way the sex was its own animal, unaware of infection glistening all around, or whether the last woman had left the roué's bed for good. My finger glanced the tender tip and drew a thin thread, tenuous, glassy, finely spun, so capable of breaking. But it didn't; it stayed there, suspended between my finger and the man, opalescent in its shine. I thought then of the thread [End Page 148] that the Fates weave for every man, the length upon which his life depends. Slowly I reached for the mercury ointment so as not to disturb the roué, the thread, the sickness, and in that moment I was certain only of this: that all things whirl to ruin, and that everyone must die a little in order for me to cure them.
Joanne Diaz received her MFA from New York University, where she was a New York Times Foundation Fellow. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Quarterly West and the Southern Review.