In this poem, a young male patient receives stitches in an emergency room for a face wound from an alleyway knife fight. It seems the violence involved drugs, as a "broken syringe" is involved in the fight. However, more telling is the label that the ER doctor uses to describe the patient. The narrator of the poem, apparently an exhausted physician-in-training, is told by the ER doctor to quickly "Stitch up the faggot in bed 6."

The narrator meticulously sews his patient's wound, empathizing completely with him: "Each suture thrown reminded me I would never be safe / in that town." He too, could be ripped open "to see the dirty faggot inside." Furthermore, he ruminates that when the perpetrators of such violence themselves become victims, he would also stitch their wounds--silently, carefully, passively, "like an old woman."


This is a powerful poem about wounds, prejudice, vulnerability and compassion. The structure of the poem: the enjambment of lines and stanzas, the caesuras and repetitions, give the poem a sense of sutures thrown, insults absorbed, linkages made, time passing. The emotional tone of the poem is also complex: anger internalized, a weary sadness, but also a subversive undermining of the ER doctor's command to do a "quick and dirty" job. The patient is wounded and cries, but the physician suffers as well.

Primary Source

Virginia Quarterly Review


Vol. 80(2), Spring 2004