Anatomy Lab ~ Sigman Byrd



The body bags reeking of formaldehyde rested on

steel tables like butterfly cocoons

            tucked in a hatchery. 

I unzipped number nineteen where you,

            or rather, the pale yellow,

darkening constellation of you lay waiting.


It was the end of the semester. The students had sawed

through your sternum. Your lungs, burned black

from years of cigarette smoke, leaned

against your left arm. Your hand

            (the wrinkled fingers,

nails still pink with polish) twitched when

I pulled the long palmar muscle.


Give it a try, I said a little more bluntly than I expected.

            You were kind enough to overlook

my embarrassment, my awkward belief

that someone, a husband or hospice worker,

in the ice-crusted, bare blown season

            of final amends must have loved you.


Whoever you were, whatever travail of life

you called your own, even in death

            you were quicker than I was.

I pushed the split halves of your face together

            as if in the cracked chrysalis of flesh,

gone, long gone, I could still find you,

            the lucent beam,

the unmade aperture still shining

in the dust before you were born.