Hunterian Triptych

Martha Sprackland

The affinity between the Fox, Wolf, Jackal, and several varieties of the Dog, in their external form and several of their properties, is so striking, that they appear to be only varieties of the same species.

Dr John Hunter

i

This ghostly archive, lined with labelled jars
is full of light. Each pickled thing bleached to ivory
sleeps in a glass flask of formaldehyde, shelves of pale stars
that catalogue our strange bodies’ history.

I like the cuttles and the moray coiled up like a rope
or silver birch leaves in the moonlight, and the teeth
and textbook jaws and joints of elephants and antelope,
the piano lids left off to show the working underneath

the muscles strung across the hammer of the mount,
the sprung seat of the clever skeleton and costly organs
holding to account the whole machine,
but most the disunited human hand, the marinated palm

flayed neatly, peeled to show the bone in brine –
the strange compared assembly of your hand in mine.

ii

Black malignancies glued inside the ribcage like wasps’ nests,
bubbled lungs and degraded splints of bone,
bladderwrack washed up across the breast.

Ink has spilt across the clean page of the brain
and gathered into clots like cherrystones.
Gut-silk is rot and mothy with a spreading stain.

Look through the eyepiece of the what-the-butler-saw
into the peepshow of the reconstructed soldier’s nose
dilated gunshot wound and unhooked blasted jaw.

Under the microscope the blood is dilute, swims with infiltrates,
the glands and kidneys showing scree and stones –
the myriad fascinating ways the body breaks

or fails, or lets us down. I am a tray of fragile curios
pushed carelessly from room to room on rattling wheels.

iii

The long-limbed foetal kangaroo is like a toy,
the baleen whale like sugarwork in peppermint white.
Ranks of failed experiments, the dreaming small
of muntjac deer and armadillo packed airtight
in sterile wombs. A wasp-sized mouse wrapped in a twin,
a crocodile still umbilical to the egg, a bird in flight
attached with wire to the false sky of the lid,
an infant snake as delicate as spooled moonlight,
the perfect dolphin worked in mother of pearl and wax.
Until this, when we crouch before a case with cut-glass sight,
our hearts alarming brashly in their own warm jars,
then bolt towards the exit and the park, the natural light.

(Nine tiny phantoms ranged by month and weight
repose inside nine matryoshka bottles of frostbite.)