Anatomy Lab

I.

You may find it emotionally difficult
to dissect signifiers of personhood
,
says the anatomy professor,
meaning these knuckles, these nails
still with dirt underneath them,
this stiff hand I hold as I trim
away skin to the tendons beneath,
thin ropes that, puppet-like, pull
up each finger. Their names
flexor digitorum profundus
abductor pollicis brevis

sound like a prayer counted off
on a rosary. The bodies’ palms
are all frozen open, their arms
stuck in extension as if
they are asking for something.

II.

You can’t just reach in
like an Aztec
, says
the anatomy professor,
gesturing where to cut
the cadaver. I break into
the body, pick the lock
of the ribs, take the clavicle off
like a necklace. Lifting
the lid of the chest wall,
light illuminates the muscles
between ribs—stained glass
sinew into which the music
of the organ rose, lub dub
lub dub
. I clip the pericardium,
pulmonary trunk & veins,
aorta, vena cavas, until
the gush of formaldehyde
subsides and I can touch
the primal valentine,
not offered up for love,
but sacrifice.

III.

Guess he didn’t make any films,
says the anatomy professor,
our cadaver poorly endowed
and ravaged by cancer.
We’re instructed to fillet
the tight skin of his penis,
peel it back like a glove
to reveal the sponge
of its center, deep dorsal vein,
dorsal nerves, and urethra.
The shaft that someone
once hungered to touch,
to fill themselves with,
now sallow & bloodless
& halved by a scalpel.
But his hair strikes me hardest,
a soft mat of curls
dark and thick as my lover’s,
whose body I return home to hold
and will not, cannot let go.

Celeste LipskeCeleste Lipkes’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rattle, Smartish Pace, The Bellevue Literary Review, SAND, Labletter, Measure, Unsplendid, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the University of Virginia and is currently pursuing an MD at Virginia Commonwealth University. Visit her on the web at www.celestelipkes.com.