The wrapped slab was cold, the labs were cold.
We were rubber-gloved and booted, playing
at professionals, all tremors under the gowns.
There were rumours the dental students
wouldn’t get cadavers, only heads, severed
and plated like Saint John the Baptist’s.
They only needed gums and teeth. We
were nurses, radiographers, spared the shock
of the obviously dead who had only lately
stopped requiring eye tests and vitamins.
On our desks in freezing gauze, the torsos:
human, yes, but manageable. Already cut
along the front, more pantry than body,
amply stocked with replicated parts—
plastic liver, rubber heart the size of my fist—
each tethered to its spot with rope. I thought
they looked like astronauts, umbilical in air;
I made a note. I’d wanted to study literature;
the Career Advisor had warned me off. A waste
if you don’t want to teach. Think about nursing,
something vocational. Student loans don’t pay
themselves. Lately I’d been writing in my rooms
at night, poems I dug out and dusted off
like bits of buckle or willow-ware. I hadn’t trusted
my body for months. I bruised like bad fruit,
fell often. No wonder if this was my engine.
It was nightmarish. Mince and cheese and béchamel
left to congeal. All the iron on earth, I wrote, was born
on a star. Including the iron in my blood.
That was the science I wanted. Where I was
supernova inside. And it wasn’t fatal to live.