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A Hundred Gourds 5:1 December 2015

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page 11  

Jonathan McKeown - Australia


Touched
(Sympathy for the Eighth Henry)


When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip-socket and Jacob’s hip was wrenched as he wrestled with him.

                  Genesis 32: 25


As I write these words I can feel that familiar niggling that has dogged me for more than two decades. In this degree I no longer think of it as pain but as a gentle earnest reminder – for in the early years it would often ambush me . . . In time I have come to accept it, to live with it just as one learns to live with a sibling or a spouse; even to consider it a gift. Among other things it has bestowed particular limitations, and particular sympathies.

green eyes
the cat’s face
never smiles

In 1527, Henry VIII injured his left foot playing tennis, and in the same year was laid up with what has been described as his “sorre legge”, the first record of a wound, thought to be an ulcer on his thigh, that would trouble him for the rest of his life. Henry had more than an academic interest in medicine it seems: and being well informed for his day, he would have understood better than most exactly where the frontiers of medical science lay, but more than that he knew in his own flesh and bone the dreadful limit of the physician’s powers.

Galen mirrored in the stone blue sky

Henry was not inclined to show weakness, and even made law the Treason Act, which forbade anyone from predicting or speaking of the king’s death – which no doubt made it difficult for his physicians to be completely frank with him. So it is a rare disclosure of vulnerability when he wrote to the Duke of Norfolk excusing himself from travel and confessing: “to be frank with you, which you must keep to yourself, a humour has fallen into our legs and our physicians advise us not to go far in the heat of the day.”
nonsuch palace
a falcon feels unseen
forms of wind

I may never know the inner experience of Henry on his sickbed. At such limits, no doubt even kings may be brought to their knees by the nameless foe . . . Mere mortals in the grip of intense pains – in agonies – become disposed to dreadful superstitions. But then, a cat may look on a king, and wonder at the exceptional subjectivity of a man that presumed for a time (or was perhaps chosen) to mediate God to an earthly realm.

For Thine is the kingdom . . .
the invisible arch
spotted doves trace


Note:

"green eyes" was previously published in Paper Wasp, Spring 2013.
“Galen mirrored” was previously published in a slightly modified form in AHG 4:4


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