For Mary Haldane, a victim of Burke and Hare,
Edinburgh 1828

You never thought of love,
when you shut your eyes, waiting
for it to be over, then
stumbled out with a shilling,
to pay the rent, feed your daughter
maybe buy a trinket
to pin to your coat
or hang, sparkling,
around your neck.

You never thought of love
when two men,
their accents strange but cheery,
plied you with gin,
took you, one on either side,
to their lodgings.

You never thought of love
as they laid you on a bed of rags
in the guttering light
a rat scratching in the corner.

They did not bother to lift your dress
but got straight to business.

You felt the weight of one horizontally
across your chest, pinning your arms;
through frightened eyes;
the last thing you saw
was a smile
opening over gappy teeth
before two fingers snapped your nose,
a hand smothered your mouth …

… but afterwards –
Dr Knox loved you;
he saw past
your dishevelled clothes
and dirty face,
knowing how beautiful you’d be inside.
His hands were gentle; his knife
slid softly into your skin
on its way to your heart.

Kate Blackadder