Commended: 2015 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry, NHS Category
(i) Brit Milah
He that is eight days old, born in your house,
must be circumcised or his soul shall be cut
off from his people. Yet, because the three sisters
at Sepphoris lost their first born to the perfecting
cut, Rabbi Gamaliel told the fourth she must
not circumcise her son. For in one family
the blood is loose, while in another the blood
is held fast. Blessed are You,
L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe,
Who has sanctified us with Your commandments,
and commanded us concerning circumcision.
‘A haemorrhage …. without the slightest cause
from the navel of our small Alexis.’ So begins
a short life, whose childhood knocks are national
disasters. Red pools linger in joints, strikes cripple.
Political fevers spike and the inherited disorder
moves from fitful remission to final crisis,
from Tsarkoe Selo to Tobolsk.
‘In the evening we shot at the target, for something to do.
It’s boring, but it’s getting warmer.
The red guards have been here a week.’
Lyoshka’s last diary entry before
Ipatiev House, place of special purpose,
its whitewashed windows nailed up in the July heat,
where, carried in his father’s arms at midnight
down twenty-three steps to the basement,
his bleeding ended.
(iii) New World
‘Ordinary purging doses of sulphate of soda’
were applied to the small bleeders, the Shepherd boys,
to no great effect, Dr John Otto recorded
in the Medical Repository in 1803.
Later prescriptions included calcium lactate,
Witt’s peptone, anaphylaxis, and the galvanic needle.
In the Fifties, peanut butter. McFarlane in Oxford
swore by snake venom to trigger the clotting cascade.
In the year of the Civil Rights Act and Love Me Do,
Judith Pool scraped the muck from a defrosted bag,
and, unlike her lab mates, stuck by her results,
leaps in blood clotting requiring the human factor.
The good news -with minor adjustments for Hep C,
HIV, CJD – kept coming. Cancer took Judith, at fifty-three.