ARTEMISIA
by JOHN TESSITORE

For your wound, I cut a branch

of sagebrush, stir its essence

to a poultice. When coaxed,

the desert yields its wisdom,

its solace if not its cure. Next, 

a bandage of clean linen 

spun from the blooming flax 

that grows in the river basin, 

blue petals waxing purple 

in the distance like fallen silk. 

 

We distract ourselves with color,

rare pigments and emulsions, 

objects of veneration. We honor 

the martyrs who suffer for us, 

worship the struggles of heroes. 

Others, always others. One wonders 

how often a problem can be solved 

before it stays solved forever. 

 

For now, a salve from nature.

 

Your lonely pain is your own 

but it is not uncommon. Susanna 

took her soap and oil to the garden, 

bathed her arms beneath the holm 

and hungry eyes of the elders, 

and endured another trial.

 

Every godly life is a battle. 

Every wife is wise to hide 

a knife in her bedclothes.

 

And every artist who trusts

in artists is bartered. The business

of art has never been innocent.

It nurtures a happy few. For the rest 

the price is shame, or the thumb screw.

 

A daughter of lust, of blind 

conquest, learns to guard 

her body with her bow, turns 

her skill as a tracker against 

her pursuers. A different fate 

awaits her showman brother, 

the one who plays the lyre.

 

The woman becomes nature. 

 

And where is the father who

promised to protect you?

And where are the watchmen

who swore to answer the alarm?

And where are the healing hands

of the mother who understands

this pain better than you do?

 

I dress your wound in silence

since I watched in silence too.

AUTHOR BIO:

John Tessitore has been a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, and a biographer. He has taught British and American history and literature at colleges around Boston and has run national policy studies on education, civil justice, and cultural policy. Most recently, he has published poems in the American Journal of Poetry, Canary, The Wallace Stevens Journal, and forthcoming in Wild Roof and the Sunday Mornings at the River anthology.