The Tailors of Children’s Memorial


"It is Christmas eve and our patient lies on the table in twilight sleep..."

Any Good Poem

Richard Berlin, MD, shares his poem "The Tailors of Children's Memorial," which can be found below.

The Tailors of Children’s Memorial

(after Beatrix Potter)

It is Christmas eve

and our patient lies on the table

in twilight sleep.Gazing at a masked face

turned upside down, he hears a voice

that drifts like anesthesia, strokes him

gentle and steady as a grandfather clock:

In the time of swords and periwigs there lived a tailor in Gloucester…

The boy’s thoughts drift to the tired old tailor

sewing the Mayor’s Christmas coat

while Simpkin the cat captures mice

dressed in waistcoats of paduasoy and taffeta

and hides the last spool of cherry coloured twist.

His eyes close quiet as snow.

…The old tailor worked and worked until two days before Christmas, when he fell asleep before the fire, the coat unfinished, too sick to sew another stitch…

With the boy on his belly, our cheese cutter

shaves cloth from his buttocks,

OR light glowing through our fabric

like moonlight, gloved hands creating new flesh

to the beat of the anesthetist’s voice.

…On Christmas eve, the coat still in pieces, the mice came out from their homes

in the wall and began to sew…

On blistered hands his father held to fire

two teams sew 5-0 chromic

with snips of scissors and snaps of clamps,

tiny needles hooking mouse-sized bites of skin,

fingers tying our finest knots,

stitches so neat, so small,

they look as if little mice had made them.

…When the tailor woke on Christmas day and unlocked his shop, there lay the most beautiful satin waistcoat anyone had ever seen.Beside a single unsewn buttonhole lay a note from the mice: “No More Twist”

Our shop never runs short of suture

and we stitch for days without sleep,

hold flesh in our burning hands like silk,

possessed with the power to sew

the darkest seams.

…From then on, the luck of the Tailor of Gloucester changed.He grew quite stout and he grew quite rich and made the most wonderful waistcoats for the fine gentlemen of the country round.

We gather the instruments,

peel off gloves and plain green gowns,

untie masks and wonder

at new skin fashioned by hand.

And tomorrow, on Christmas Day,

we will wear our finest coats

against a threadbare world

even the Tailors of Children’s Memorial

lack the magic to mend.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 24 years in the Psychiatric Times™ “Poetry of the Times” column. He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch.

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