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First Do No Harm: An Uncle Cut from the Cloth Salving Apollo

Paul Haeder: A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away and the trees stand I think, I too, have known autumn too long

For my Uncle John Cooper’s dignity going from earth, 1925-2017

Salving Apollo

hands, cloistered for healing
perfection of stitch and scalpel
touching skin, homing in on disease
healers come as shaman, midwife,
child protector, word toucher,
poet, or physician ee cummings

A wind has blown the rain away
and blown the sky away and all the leaves away
and the trees stand
I think, I too,
have known autumn too long

birth in 1925, burials for pandemics
healers as barbers, leeches-blood letting
boy John tethered to catechism, phlegmatic
priests condemning woman to birth
cash cow of religion, boy learned
mind is temple, holy logic
critical thinking like angelic rays

the folly of 60-year-old nephew,
now, sending uncle to great
thermal dynamics of entropy,
regeneration, heart of John
I learned this burl of age
now passing conversations
man with four children
wife a healer, too

uncanny life held to patients
members of web, patience, community
East Coast, New Jersey
both man and woman daily
sharing diagnostician’s help
pushing individual fear
through old time medicine

my Uncle John, no longer
cooper of his given name
he burned candle both ends
still found laughter with children
fondness: boy and three girls, tumbling
into life, my uncle, at forty, wizened
my small life always cleaved by respect
elders my kin, even political antithesis, kinship
uncle brought specialized language
to my life undertow
of learning another man’s passion

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post-World War One, a beckoning in America
boy turned teenager, his first love
faithfully broaching ideas, conceptualizations
flipped into precision, words two millennial
behind, now, corrupted medicine, my uncle
predicted storms, swept seas, upheaval
he stayed true:

I swear by Apollo the physician
and Asclepius, and Hygieia and Panacea
and all the gods and goddesses as my witnesses
that, according to my ability and judgement
I will keep this Oath and this contract

Hippocrates’ empathy, books, learning
floating through massive devolutions
country turned to shekels and oil
country doctor no dishonor
Uncle John touched lives, healer’s love
moving now into cerebral space
our memory floating in between
time, clutching this man’s gravitas
a death is no removal, a deep rooted
conveyance of interconnectedness

. . . as I stay a boy, visiting Jersey, listening
to stories of surgery, the rooting
out of medicinal love by
Uncle John Cooper, RIP.

NOTE: Tribute poems can seem personal, too close to the poet's frame, but we are universal humans with universal depths to our feelings and understanding of what life is in poetry -- a lament, lamentation. I see the struggle of a doctor in Syria the struggle of a doctor in the US, trying to heal, trying to be a preventative healer. So, what better lamentation poem than,

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more -Oh, never more!

--- "A Lament" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Paul Haeder