Ungloved hands appear to restrain

the painted patient, his head turned

away, inviting the metal blades to invade,

dissect his neck, carve the cervical growth.

Men in expensive dark hues lean toward

the operation. They clench fists, grab

lapels, watch each cut. They inhale quietly

whiffs of this magic. Clear ether wafts

through the colored oils, the fragrance

diffusing from their faces, the sweet

carbon binding this man in red-striped

white. Organic vapors roil in his blood

and deflect the pain as the eldest

slices. His thin-rimmed glasses are flecked

with arterial spray. To keep cuffs clean,

his sleeves are rolled up. His legs straddle

the patient. The unpaintable moves these

still men: the gas of surgery without screams

even as blood dribbles down the neck,

the white cloth, the bare fingers

of history. The tumor leaves in silence,

and the gentlemen physicians—still

anesthetized—exhale, savor the first

scent of the future and understand

that’s no humbug.