After the Loss of a Limb


From the Archive

Eugène-Louis Doyen, nineteenth century

Elena Wilkinson’s poem “After the Loss of a Limb” appeared in our Spring 1974 issue. Her contributor’s note said only that she lived in New York City. 


After the family surgeon has severed my hand and wrist from the forearm,
And I have carefully washed the separated hand with the connected hand,
And done its fingernails, and put a drop of perfume at the pulse of the wrist,
And soothed the hand, and stroked it, and spoken to it
Until it understands everything, why the operation was necessary,
And I have kissed each finger before picking it up by the thumb
And packing it with colored tissue in a nice box,
And with some difficulty wrapped it and sent it away,
And when you receive the package and open the box and find
That I have sent you my hand, my wrist, and the first three inches of my forearm,
You must care for the fingernails, clean them and polish them,
Brood over them so they grow long and pretty,
You must massage the skin with cream to keep it soft, and perfume the wrist,
You must be considerate and make it feel it is a member of the family,
Taking no notice of whoever may watch as you wash or touch or speak to my hand,
And advise you to bury the thing, or use it as a paperweight or objet d’art,
Or tell you to keep it out of the sight of the children,
Remembering you did say you were fond of my hand and wanted it.