Saturday Poem / In the Interest of Public Health

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When tight lacing into corsets
was in vogue, woman proved
the weaker sex,
her organs squeezed, distorted

like her feet in six-inch heels,

the broken toes and arches
that made Chinese women
dainty cripples.


Hysteria in women was caused,
since earliest history,
by the wandering womb, excess of sex --
or lack thereof. Symptoms:
faintness, nerves, desire, insomnia, fluid retention,
heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath,
irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, a tendency
to cause trouble.
The cure was pelvic massage --

electric vibrators were a hit
well before vacuum cleaners and electric irons
made it to the market.


Nineteenth century doctor Samuel Cartwright
who practiced in Mississippi and Louisiana,
discovered a new infectious disease
whose symptom was slaves running away from masters.

Cartwright delivered a paper describing this illness
to the Louisiana Medical Association,
gave it a Greek name:
drapetes, runaway slave; mania, illness or derangement:
thus drapetomania.

His research had heft -- the Bible told him so --
his work spread rapidly throughout southern states.
The cure was amputation of the toes.


The way to end the epidemic
of death and injury by gunfire,
says the National Rifle Association,

is for more people to have more
and more powerful guns.

Phalanxomania we might call this fixation
from the Greek phalanx for soldiers that attack in close formation.

For mania, see above.


Liane Ellison Norman has written a number of books in various genres, mostly recently "Breathing the West: Great Basin Poems" (Bottom Dog Press, 2012). Her poetry has been published widely and in 2006 she was awarded the Wisteria Prize for poetry from Paper Journey Press. She lives in Squirrel Hill.


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