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Partial Accounts

May 03, 1987|William Meredith

i . surgery

When they needed a foreign part,

a valve which was not to be found

or spared elsewhere in his ample,

useful body, they chose a pig's valve.

This will be compatible, they reasoned,

with such pig-headed machinery

as has maintained a minor poet

for sixty-three years in America.

ii. convalescence

Once a week on Thursday there's a souk

or open market in Sale, the old Roman port

facing Rabat across the Bou Regreg.

At least one dentist always sets up shop--

a table of gun-metal teeth, formerly human.

One day I saw a woman have one pulled,

or saw as much as a queasy heart could watch.

The chirurgien dentiste was a small man,

authoritative, Berber I think.

His left foot was set gently on the woman's

shoulder, and when I last looked,

difficult, silent progress was being made.

A concept of necessary suffering, praise Allah,

is common to all civilizations.

Soon I will need to imagine again

what she was feeling, but for a few more days

that will not be necessary, a sensation

my body was too fastidious to wait for

hovers inside me. Even mortality

is briefly imaginable, like pain.

Arab sister, in your dark-robed dignity,

may we both be healed of our cures and live

painlessly forever, as our bodies urge.

From Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (Knopf: $16.95, hardcover; $10.95, paperback; 194 pp.). Born in New York in 1919, Meredith, who is about as well-established as any American poet can be (poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, chancellor of the American Academy of Poets), reflects in the dozen new poems that close this selection on the ironies of his age, his country and his position.

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