Letter from Berlin

My Dear,
Today a letter from Berlin
where snow – the first of ’38 – flew in,
settled and shrivelled on the lamp last night,
broke moth wings mobbing the window. Light
woke me early, but the trams were late:
I had to run for the Brandenburg gate
skidding, groaning like a tram, and sodden
to the knees. Von Neumann operates at t10
and would do if the sky fell in. They lock
his theatre doors on the stroke of the clock –
but today I was lucky: found a gap
in the gallery next to a chap
I knew just as the doors were closing. Last,
as expected, on Von Showmann’s list
the new vaginal hysterectomy
that brought me to Berlin.
he went to work, making from right to left
a semi-circular incision. Deft
dissection of the fascia. The blood-
blossoming arteries nipped in the bud.
Speculum, scissors, clamps – the uterus
cleanly delivered, the pouch of Douglas
stripped to the rectum, and the cavity
closed. Never have I seen such masterly
technique. ‘And so little bleeding!’ I said
half to myself, half to my neighbour.
came his whisper. ‘Don’t be a fool’
I said, for still below us in the pool
of light the marvellous unhurried hands
were stitching, tying he double strands
of catgut, stitching, tying. It was like
a concert, watching those hands unlock
the music from the score. And at the end
one half expected him to turn and bend
stiffly towards us. Stiffly he walked out
and his audience shuffled after. But
finishing my notes in the gallery
I saw them uncover the patient: she
was dead.
I met my neighbour in the street
waiting for the same tram, stamping his feet
on the pavement’s broken snow, and said:
‘I have to apologize. She was dead,
but how did you know? Back came his voice
like a bullet ‘ – saw it last month, twice.’

Returning your letter to an envelope
yellower by years than when you sealed it up,
darkly the omens emerge. A ritual wound
yellow at the lip yawned in my hand;
a turbulent crater; a trench, filled
not with snow only, east of Buchenwald.

from Rounding the Horn (Carcanet 1998), © Jon Stallworthy 1998, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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