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Picking up sphagnum moss on the moors on the Royal Duchy of Cornwall estate near Princetown for use in surgical dressings during the First World War.  The dried moss was highly effective due to its antiseptic and absorbent properties.       Date: 1917
Base Hospital, Boulogne

 

When the doctor got started

on sphagnum moss, he couldn’t

be stopped. He spoke of old men,

 

women and children knee-deep

in Clara Bog, fighting off

midges, bending to hummocks

 

of red, pink, copper and green,

picking out twigs and leaves,

beetles, dragonflies, frogs,

 

packing it wet into burlap sacks,

lifting them onto donkey carts.

He pointed to mounds of dressings

 

wrapped in muslin, rest pillows

for splints and stumps. He said

there’d be many more buried,

 

were it not for the barrel-cells

that absorb sweat, soak up pus,

staunch pints of blood.

 

 

© Jane Clarke

Picture 10910279, unattributed photograph, 1917

 

 

Jane Clarke’s first collection, The River, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015 to both public and critical acclaim. She was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literary Bursary in 2017 for work on her second full-length collection and a sequence responding to a family archive in the Mary Evans Picture Library. In 2016 she won the Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year Award, the Hennessy Literary Award for Poetry and The River was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Literary Award. She holds a BA in English & Philosophy from Trinity College, Dublin and an MPhil in Writing from the University of South Wales. Jane grew up on a farm in Roscommon and now lives in Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow. www.janeclarkepoetry.ie