The Souls of the Dead
My grandmother, her oddly accurate
euphemism, turning up to the doctor. She meant
caught in stirrups on the examining table,
a doctor warming
and wincing his speculum to eye
the most interior goods.
It’s just that in lab, they’re tying open the legs now,
the cadavers supine. They’re pulling them
to the end of each table, knees roped sideways. I am so not
doing OB/gyne – the most brooding
first year med student is shaking his head.
Like I can’t believe I’m writing this
word by word until I can’t believe I’m writing about this
stares back at me from the page, mildly
unthinkable. Narfia, the anatomy TA: We try to be
so respectful …
It jumps gender. It’s equal opportunity.
The male students put off
dissecting the penis. Just another thing left to women,
one of the women blurts, like we want to?
My grandmother, her other roundabouts: a tablespoon
of bourbon in the pantry each afternoon late,
her pick-me-up. As for my sponge bath, I was
to wash down as far
as possible. Don’t forget possible,
she’d stage-whisper outside the bathroom door.
At the museum, a small threadcross behind glass,
whenever-it-was to capture bad spirits against the slow
rise of a mantra
said just the right way. A trap woven at the roof
or the entry of anything, to keep safe,
We bent to my favourite, the 99-year-old. I told her
this won’t last. Sure I did, sure.
In the great pyramids, the harpy tombs had sirens, female-headed
birds, really jars in secret, holding
the souls of the dead who peered from all four corners.
Someone always lifted into heaven –
the Son, Mary, the Holy Ghost in perpetual
hover, any number
of saints alone. Or a murder of them,
those martyrs, their gorgeous flight north
reward for fire, for stones, hot breath in the ear.
Tooth and claw, human style,
down centuries like a drip.
Night trains now, one from Milano to Roma,
blue blanket, blue sheets in the sleeping car,
a sink, a shelf, all racketing, lurching
over mountain, vineyards, cutting goat trails in half.
Human nature. The ticket guy
won’t warn us about it: someone keeps trying
our locked door all night. I hear that.
Then I dream that.
Violent too, how the paintings
rest, gallery after gallery
at the Vatican. St Sebastian, his arrows in deep,
up to their feathers. And the crucifixions – this is the deadest
dead Christ we’ve seen, my husband says, the skin
pasty gray unto green, the head lolling.
Then St Barthomew (my grade school named for him,
I walked through his door), he can’t unlove
being flayed, standard
pie plate of halo off-gassing golden behind him.
I thought that ended it, passing
because of distance. Could.
It didn’t. Not the train,
not the door and door all night,
the rattle, dark
window of it nailed right to the wall.