The Four Humours

By Rafael Campo b. 1964 Rafael Campo
I. Blood
 
We wondered if the rumors got to her.
I’d seen her with that other girl behind
The Stop and Shop when I was walking home
from school one day. I swear, the two of them
were kissing, plain as that, the grass so high
it brushed their cheeks. I told my teacher so,
and maybe it was her who called their folks.
Before too long, it was like everyone
in town had heard. We waited for them at
the dime store once, where Cedric grabbed her tits
and said I’ll learn you how to love how God
intended it, you ugly fucking dyke.
Thing was, she wasn’t ugly like you’d think.
She had a certain quality, a shyness
maybe, and I’d describe the way she laughed
as kind of gentle. Anyway, we never saw her with
that girl again. They say she got depressed—
shit, at the service all of us got tearful.
I got to thinking what an awful sight
it was, all that red blood—it wasn’t in
the papers, but I heard Melissa’s mother,
who was the nurse in the Emergency
that night, say how she was just covered up
in blood. I can’t think how you bring yourself
to cut your throat like that yourself—I asked
the counselor they called in to the school,
and she said something like, What better ink
to write the language of the heart? I guess
it proves that stuff from Bible school they say,
that such a life of sin breeds misery.
 
    
    
    
II. Phlegm
 
“My brain is draining from my head,”
he said as once again he blew
his nose. The clock read 3 A.M.;
 
its second hand swept slowly through
another viscous minute. Dead
to even nurses sticking them
 
for new IVs, the other ones
slept off their benders soundlessly.
“I’m losing my intelligence,”
 
he said, and blew. My patience waned.
He thought he was the president:
Dementia, KS, HIV
 
were printed in his problem list.
“And plus, I’m getting feverish.”
I can’t recall his name, but I
 
remember hating him—grim wish
that he would hurry up and die.
Just then, he took my hand, and kissed
 
the back of it as though I were
a princess in his foreign land.
“My lady, you are beautiful,”
 
he said, and coughed again. Unsure
of what to say, my own throat burned.
He said, “You can’t know what I feel.”
    
 
 

III. Bile
 
A gun went off and killed a little girl
The day my friend was diagnosed with cancer.
I walked through Central Park; a black dog snarled
At squirrels chattering like they had answers.
 
The day my friend was diagnosed with cancer
I dreamed of killing someone with a knife.
The squirrels, chattering, had likely answers
To all my angry questions about life—
 
A homeboy threatened someone with a knife
Not far from where a cop showed off his gun,
An angry answer to most questions about life.
I watched the squirrels hop, the yuppies run;
 
The cop approached the black kids with his gun.
I wondered how much longer she would live;
The squirrels scattered when the homeboy ran.
I wondered if she’d ever been in love,
 
I wondered who would pray for her to live,
Forgive her for her anger and her weaknesses.
I wondered why it hurt to fall in love.
The cop tried aiming past me, towards the woods.
 
Forgive us for our anger, for our weaknesses:
Through Central Park, past the black dog’s snarls,
The cop gave chase. A skirmish in the woods.
The gun went off—No! shrieked a little girl.
    



IV. Melancholy
 
We picked at it with sticks at first, until
an older kid named Samuel arrived.
He dropped a heavy rock right on its skull;
we watched as thick black slime began to ooze
from somewhere just below its heart—or where
we thought its heart should be. “Raccoon,”
said someone solemnly. The landscaper—
sweat gleaming, like the polished figurines
my mother wouldn’t ever let me touch—
regarded us with keen suspicion from
across the street. We learned what it could teach;
like any body’s secrets, the sublime
receded toward the fact of death. I knew
both sadness, and disgust in love’s untruths.

Rafael Campo, “The Four Humours” from Landscape with human figure, published by Duke University Press. Copyright © 2002 by Rafael Campo. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc.

Source: Landscape with human figure (Duke University Press, 2002)

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Poet Rafael Campo b. 1964

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, The Body, The Mind, Relationships, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Gender & Sexuality, Cities & Urban Life, Love

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Rafael  Campo

Biography

Rafael Campo is a poet and essayist who teaches and practices internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Campo earned a BA and MA from Amherst College and an MD from Harvard Medical School. His primary care practice serves mostly Latinos, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people, and people with HIV infection. Campo is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a . . .

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