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William Carlos Williams

 [1883 – 1963]


←  The Use of Force

A physician is summoned to make a house call on a family with whom he has had no prior contact. He quickly sizes up the situation: the household is poor but clean; the patient is a female child whose parents are nervously concerned, dependent on, yet distrustful of the doctor. The child’s beauty and penetrating stare make an immediate impression on him.Concerned that diphtheria may be the cause of illness, he uses his customary professional manner to determine whether or not the child has a sore throat. But the child will have none of it and «clawed instinctively for my eyes.» The attempt at an examination rapidly escalates into a physical «battle» as the physician, convinced that it is crucial to see the child’s throat «and feeling that I must get a diagnosis now or never,» becomes ever more enraged and forceful while the girl continues to resist with all her strength, and the parents are in an agony of fear for her health and embarrassment over her behavior.

The story evokes with great immediacy a number of important issues about doctoring: the predicament of having quickly to assess a medical/social situation in an unfamiliar, even hostile environment; the doctor’s impressive powers of observation; his concern to do the right thing medically; the anxiety of the sick child’s parents; the power that the doctor wields; the dark side of human nature which may allow such power to surface in unsavory ways and which the professional, like any rational person, has under most circumstances learned to control. William Carlos Williams published his story in book form in 1938 .

↓  Adapted for the screen, filmed, directed and edited by Ethan A. Scarduzio [May 2012]

Physician  (on the phone):   What is the girl’s name?  …Where…? Yes, I know where that is. I’ll be there in a few mo… I’m sorry?  Oh, well, usually $3.  We’ll worry about that later.  I’ll see you soon. Goodbye.

Father:  She’s had a fever for three days and we don’t know what it comes from. My wife has given her things, you know, like people do, but it don’t do no good. And there’s been a lot of sickness around. So we tho’t you’d better check her over to see what’s the matter.

Physician:   Has she had a sore throat?

Both parents (together):   No . . . No, she says her throat don’t hurt her.

Mother:  Does your throat hurt you?

Physician:   Have you checked?

Mother:  I tried to,  but I couldn’t see.

Physician:  Well, suppose we take a look at the throat first. Come on, Mathilda, open up and let me have a look.

(Nothing doing …)  Just open your mouth wide and let me take a look. Look (opening both hands wide), I haven’t anything in my hands. Just open your mouth and let me see.

Mother:  Such a nice man. Look how kind he is to you. Come on, do what he says: he’s not gonna hurt you.

Physician: (upset)  Ma’am, I’d prefer if you let me take care of it.

(girl knocks doctor’s glasses flying as she screams)

Mother:  You bad girl. Look what you’ve done. The nice man . . .

Physician:   Don’t call me a nice man to her. I’m here to check her throat for diphtheria, that she might possibly possibly die of. Look here, we’re going to look at your throat. You’re old enough to understand what I’m saying. Are you going to open it by yourself or shall we have to open it for you?

(to her parents)  Sir, madam, may I have a word? I’m terribly sorry for my outburst but I’ve no other options beside the use of force.

Mother:  Maybe if we stopped and tried again later…

Physician:   Ma’am, if I may be frank,  I’ve seen two children lying dead in bed due to neglect in such cases. And it is essential to get a diagnosis. If you want me to desist, I will do so. But you must take responsibility for any occurrences beyond this point.

Mother:  If you don’t do what the doctor says you’re gonna have to go to the hospital. You can do this honey. You can do… It’s not gonna hurt.

I had to smile to myself. After all, I had already fallen in love with the savage brat. And yet, I could have torn her apart in my own fury and enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her; my face was burning with it.

Mother:  And your dad will be there too; we’ll both be right next to you, and it’s not gonna hurt…

Physician:   Put her in front of you, on your lap. Hold on her wrists.

Mathilda (screaming):  Don’t!. Let go of my hands. Let them go I tell you. (hysterically) Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing me! (bites doctor’s hand)

Mother:  Aren’t you ashamed,. Aren’t you ashamed to act like that in front of the doctor?

Physician:  Girl, you are damned!  You are afflicted with the devil and I am your exorcist! Now, open your mouth and show me the name of the demon and […?]

(to her mother)  Give me a smooth-handled spoon; we’re going through with this…

The damned little brat must be protected against her own idiocy, one says to oneself at such times. Others must be protected against her. It is a social necessity. But a blind fury, a feeling of adult shame, bred of a longing for muscular release are the operatives. One must go on to the end. And yet, I ask myself, who is the sick child?

Sickness name is written upon a pair of […?] (both tonsils covered with membrane) She had fought valiantly to keep me from knowing her secret. She’d been hiding that sore throat for three days at least and lying to her parents in order to escape just such an outcome as this. But tears of defeat blinded her eyes.

Physician:   Wasn’t so bad now, was it?

Poets are dumb but they’re not blind. They see with the eyes of the angels. Doctors are not different.

•→Another short movie «The Use Of Force»←•
¤ →

5 Poems by William Carlos Williams

01.  ‘This is Just to Say’ ←
This is just to say,
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox
and which you were probably saving for breakfast
Forgive me, they were delicious, so sweet and so cold
02.  ‘The Act’

There were the roses, in the rain.
Don’t cut them, I pleaded. They won’t last, she said.
But they’re so beautiful where they are.
Agh, we were all beautiful once, she said,
and cut them and gave them to me in my hand.

03. «The Great Figure»
Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
04. «A Sort Of A Song»

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
— through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

05-  «Tract»

I will teach you          my townspeople

how to perform          a funeral —

for you have it          over a troop

of artists—

unless one should          scour the world —

you have the ground sense          necessary.

See! the hearse leads.

I begin with          a design for a hearse.

For Christ’s sake          not black —

nor white either —          and not polished!

Let it be weathered —          like a farm wagon —

with gilt wheels          (this could be

applied fresh          at small expense)

or no wheels at all:

a rough dray to          drag over the ground.

Knock the glass out!

My God-glass,          my townspeople!

For what purpose?          Is it for the dead

to look out or          for us to see

how well he is housed          or to see

the flowers or          the lack of them —

or what?

To keep the rain          and snow from him?

He will have a          heavier rain soon:

pebbles and dirt          and what not.

Let there be no glass —

and no upholstery          phew!

and no little          brass rollers

and small easy wheels          on the bottom —

my townspeople          what are you thinking of?

A rough          plain hearse then

with gilt wheels          and no top at all.

On this          the coffin lies

by its own weight.

                  No wreathes please —

especially no          hot house flowers.

Some common memento          is better,

something he prized          and is known by:

his old clothes —          a few books perhaps —

God knows what!          You realize

how we are          about these things

my townspeople —

something will be found —          anything

even flowers          if he had come to that.

So much for          the hearse.

For heaven’s sake though          see to the driver!

Take off          the silk hat! In fact

that’s no place          at all for him —

up there          unceremoniously

dragging our friend out          to his own dignity!

Bring him down —          bring him down!

Low and inconspicuous!          I’d not have him ride

on the wagon at all —          damn him —

the undertaker’s          understrapper!

Let him hold          the reins

and walk          at the side

and inconspicuously          too!

Then briefly          as to yourselves:

Walk behind —          as they do in France,

seventh class, or          if you ride

Hell take curtains!          Go with some show

of inconvenience;          sit openly —

to the weather          as to grief.

Or do you think          you can shut grief in?

What — from us?          We who have perhaps

nothing to lose?          Share with us

share with us —          it will be money

in your pockets.

                              Go now

I think you are          ready.

◊  «Smell»  ↓

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
beneath them. With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
for something less unlovely? What girl will care
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?

◊ «Spring and All» ↓

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

♦   «Red Wheel Barrow» +  . . .  ↓  [Columbia_1942]
so much depends upon a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.

  1. The Red Wheelbarrow  (0:11)
  2. Tract  (2:34)
  3. The Defective Record  (0:28):    MP3
  4. To a Poor Old Woman  (0:27):   MP3
  5. A Coronal  (0:40):    MP3
  6. To Elsie  (1:45):     MP3
  7. The Wind Increases  (0:27):    MP3
  8. Classic Scene  (0:28):    MP3

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