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Clare Marsh – The Physician’s Apprentice

The Physician’s Apprentice

In the Physic Garden Jacob fills
a wooden bucket with wall-prised snails,
accretions found under fallen leaves.
He tears streamers of ground ivy,
turns the soil with his spade,
gathers writhing worms,
watched by an opportunist robin.

In the Herb Garret Jacob consults
his master’s pharmacopoeia,
washes slime from the creatures,
bruises bodies, shatters shells,
weighs fennel seeds on balance scales,
adds eight gallons of spirit wine –
leaves in the alembic to steep overnight.

In the dispensary Jacob greets
the crowd of syphilitic paupers
and prostitutes from Southwark’s stews,
jostling to buy corked bottles
of Dr Mead’s Snail Water for a few coins –
an effective remedy against contagion
contracted by vice and purchased love.

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The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret – St Thomas’ Hospital
Based on the recipe for Snail Water on display in the museum.

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Clare Marsh lives in the Weald of Kent and is a social worker. She is just completing M.A. Creative Writing at the University of Kent with a collection of poems. An active member of local writing groups, her current interests are poetry and flash fiction.

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