“Acupuncture and Cleansing at Forty-Eight” Len Roberts

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“The Body Is Nothing but a Map of the Heart”


You need only read the first two lines of the late Len Roberts’ poem “Acupuncture and Cleansing at Forty-Eight” to realize it was 21 years ahead of its time. Forgoing meat and dairy? Forswearing sugar? All that’s missing is the banishment of gluten.

Still, there’s more than a little acupuncture going on in this poem. There’s a life being revealed, many pains being traced, and Dr. Ming working hard, against all odds. If you’ve never tried acupuncture, here’s your chance—a poem that makes its vicarious points, one by one:


Acupuncture and Cleansing at Forty-Eight
Len Roberts

No longer eating meat or dairy products or refined sugar,
I lie on the acupuncturist’s mat stuck with twenty
needles and know a little how
Saint Sebastian felt with those arrows
piercing him all over, his poster
tacked to the wall before my fourth-grade desk
as I bent over the addition and loss,
tried to find and name the five oceans, seven continents,
drops of blood with small windows of light strung
from each of his wounds, blood like
the blood on my mother’s pad the day she hung
it before my face and said I was making her bleed to death,
blood like my brother’s that day
he hung from the spiked barb
at the top of the fence,
a railroad track of stitches gleaming
for years on the soft inside of his arm,
blood like today when Dr. Ming extracts a needle and dabs
a speck of red away, one from my eyelid, one from my cheek,
the needles trying to open my channels of chi,
so I can sleep at night without choking,
so I don’t have to fear waking my wife hawking the hardened mucus out,
so I don’t have to lie there thinking
of those I hate, of those who have died, the needles
tapped into the kidney point, where memories reside,
tapped into the liver point, where poisons collect,
into the feet and hands, the three chakras of the chest
that split the body in half, my right healthy, my left in pain,
my old friend’s betrayal lumped in my neck,
my old love walking away thirty years ago
stuck in my lower back, father’s death, mother’s
lovelessness lodged in so many parts
it may take years, Dr. Ming whispers, to wash them out,
telling me to breathe deep, to breathe hard,
the body is nothing but a map of the heart.


Waves of anaphora and repetition of all sorts. And why not? Pain repeats and, through repetition, builds. Writing about it is akin to Dr. Ming. It gets the chi flowing!