Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Charleston, South Carolina, 1864

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Charleston, South Carolina, 1864

Article excerpt

The orphan Lenore had learned to sew skin

before dresses, dress combat wounds

in scanty light, lit fires with bark and sheet music.

After disease or grief or their gentle natures

did the other women in, Lenore and a slave girl,

Josephine, begged and learned by heart

the body's fields and rows, its floodplains,

forests, streams. The doctors taught them

how to set a bone, pull a tooth. They gave the men,

too tired to protest their youth, opium

or chloroform before they pinned them,

watched the doctor saw their limbs,

worked the tenaculum to withdraw and tie off

arteries and veins. That winter, Lenore's first

blood had come while she worked,

pooled between her legs, stained her

homespun dress, camouflaged by the blood

of others. Josephine had told her what it meant.

The girls held their dinner down each day, breathed

through their mouths, sat vigil and sang

Josephine's work songs. Girls were good for work like this,

she thought, as Josephine slept soundly in her arms. …

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