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Poetry and Medicine
September 3, 2003

I Cut the Body

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(9):1139. doi:10.1001/jama.290.9.1139

Dedicated to Andreas Vesalius, anatomist (1514-1564)
What pneuma conflates these fascicles
That twitch long after the neck is cut?
And what confluence circles
The fatty flesh within
The contours of the skull—
Petrous without, liquefact within,
Milled around a common gland
Secreting living humors?
I cut the body, not someone else.
Not the barber surgeon, preceptor, demonstrator,
Pedagogue, rogue or holy man.
I found those bodies below the hangman's trough
And in the poor man's yard;
Bodies I have kept 10 days or more
Till I could find another
Among the ranks of criminals,
A body to dissect. Grave rifling
Was a necessity, maledetto.
I wrote the book, not someone else.
I folded the paper and creased the skin
Over knuckles bent left to left
And right to right, dry like
Leaves that fall in autumn
Without pores or veins
In which to travel. Water, too,
Has a final flatness after the floes of life:
Down in rains and up the channels
Of root to trunk, branch to leaf
And then to the upstart air.
Lift an arm, feel the full belly
Of muscle beneath skin and
Its tendon tethered to a condyle,
Anchored with the beard of a barnacle.

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