Much Belated: Poem from Anatomy Donor Memorial

I’m not sure why it took me so long to put this up, but here’s the poem I wrote for our Anatomical Donor Memorial in January.

Two disclaimers: (1) If you’re squeamish you *might* not want to read it. I think it’s okay but I’ve been pretty desensitized at this point, so use your best judgment. (2) Lots of anatomy-related jargon, sorry. =P

Potential Space

We operate in a potential space
between person
and body.
Maybe, mostly, one and the same for you and me;
“Lily’s eyes” or “Jill’s hands” or “the elbows of Lionel,”
is how we might speak, the space between cells and soul
solid, filled, and never
“the” left clavicle or “the body’s” right patella,
never never “its” bilateral ventricles, for talking of people.

But between bilateral ventricles beating
and the same stilled
is a pressure change:
an ascites prying this potential to real. Terminology turns:
cadaver versus person, it versus she.
So when the bag unzips what I see
is not she, what I feel is not hello,
not Velma, Agnes, Eudora, Mabel, not a name,
not the firing of neurons for finding a face,
identifying an individual, only instead
an involuntary gag at the formaldehyde.

Lights on, steps down, scalpels bladed and we reflect
the Life in a flap, away. Develop
the plane between person
and pieces of knowledge–plexus, ramus, rectus, ripping
fat and fascia, perhaps the fight
to see patients as people and not parts
starts here.

After all, how can you cope with the cuts
without cracking and chiseling, splitting and fracturing
your natural faculties of compassion, discretion, or even
imagination:

her funky taste in clothing, her grace in motion,
her memories of college, her grandchildren’s faces,
her favorite places, her first kiss. Her last kiss.
Her song, her dance, her final sights and signs and sounds,
just think: were months ago folded in the gray wrinkled thing
two layers of nitrile from your fingers.

The suspension is necessary. The second the scrubs
slip over your head, September until Second-Year Show, we are clinical,
detached, but here in the cold of January let’s let
the warmth of compassion extravagantly back in. The flowers of sense–
sadness, thanksgiving, the natural, fearful awe we once felt before
our forgotten mortality–may they bloom
into memory and die in far distant bites of time.

Let us even alongside the non-adherent in our care, the careless
comments of every totem poll tenant above us,
the compound chronically ill,
the stubborn with necks stiff like rigor, let’s
work for their favor, search for the story, remember: in that distant day
when the actual anatomy is clear and caring is cloudy:
let’s honor our first ever patients in this way:
let us close the space between person and body.

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