Friday, February 27, 2009

You Might Find Cures Between These Pages

Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder
Review by Missy McEwen

Karen S. Williams' debut poetry book Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder dedicated to "the late Dr. Clarence Livingood, former chief of dermatology, Henry Ford Hospital Detroit, Michigan," is a poetry collection of "wonderfully made" poems about medicine and midwives, diseases and doctors and death, cures and childbirth, studies and science and surgeons, and hospitals and healing. Thus, Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder is not an easy read. These poems demand the reader's full attention as Karen S. Williams focuses on topics about smallpox, yellow fever, syphilis, keloids, and anorexia:

"The way the epidemic chewed and swallowed.
Onesimus had seen the horror...
The victims clothing
must be torn off, he heard, tossed
into a flame...
To cure it, some thought would be
a leap of faith, a move beyond
Bostonian cure...
But in Africa for displaced Guramantese,
for its lost son, slave Onesimus,
it required using a prickly thorn,
a hard known briar know to rend flesh
or a twig astutely shaped
a sharp, sharp knife." -- from "Onesimus' Twig" Birth of the smallpox inoculation

"Mosquitoes like these from Hispanola,
troll about ships,
flit and foul in Eastern bogs...
They cluster and breed,
still the quick and walking..." -- from "At First Frost" for Black clerics...whom lead black volunteers to serve the sick during the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia.

"Soon, I won't remember the quiet, petite girl:
brunette...with the lazy eye. She

reminded me of my friend except that
she was white...

She spoke to me in whispers
dulled by cheap wine, her

warm, breathy words
making me forget about prophylactics,
vivid canteen posters that spelled
'Syphilis is Death'...
and said that my French woman
may look clean-- but
there is no medicine for regret."-- from "French Letter" For African-American Soldiers with Syphilis during WWI

The poems in Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder are thick and heavy with history, importance and remembrance. Remembrance of doctors such as Dr. Daniel Hale Williams ("…performer of the first open heart surgery in 1893") and Dr. Kenneth Clark:

"Dark and stiff,
in perfect line,
boys and girls enter the room...
One by one they look at the table
I have placed mid-floor,
burdened with brown and white dolls...
I give the children basic instructions,
shake each tiny hand and say:
'Hello. My name is Dr. Clark.
What I would like for you to do
is look at the table filled with dolls.
Show me the doll you think is nice,
then show me the doll you think is bad.
Then after you do that, show me
which doll looks like you.' -- from "The Doll House" For Dr. Kenneth Clark

Karen S. Williams' Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder published by Willow Books, Aquarius Press (2008) cannot be summed up by quotes pulled from the text. It is one of those books that has to be owned and read in full, read thoroughly (you might find cures between these pages). A poetry book packed with so much knowledge and insight should be in every house and on every desk in every schoolroom and can be purchased at

To learn more about Karen S. Williams go to

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