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Anne Caston



When Hal Pingle was thirty minutes late
I walked the long, windowed wall
along the back of the Anatomy Lab
and passed myself back and forth
through the dull midwinter afternoon light
watching how the dust motes
scattered then closed again behind.

Outside the snow had begun;
the courtyard was a muffle of voices.
In the unlit center of the room, a wheeled
gurney: a cadaver, covered with clear plastic.
Even from a distance I could make out the blue-grey
shape of a man, the dark massed areas of hair
along his upper chest and groin, the long incision
where he'd been opened at the morgue.
I didn't want the first nude man I'd see to be dead.
I didn't want to empty him out alone,
piece by piece, his entrails, his heart.
What I wanted was for my friend to arrive,
to take up the instruments and begin the excisions,
the litany or organs.  I would label and bag.
Then together we'd examine the corridors leading
to and from the faulty heart, make precise notes:
where the blood pooled in his body,
what it drained away from.
                                        And so not to look
at the gurney, I studied the instruments: steel calipers,
thin cannulas, the razor-bright edge of scalpels.
How sharp?  I wondered even as the fat pad
of my left thumb opened and blood seeped out.
At the pale blue door labeled Supply in the back of the room,
I put out my good hand and turned the handle.
I heard the latch click.  I heard the hinge complain.
But I was watching my thumb separate
and swell purple like a seam on a plum.
When I did look up, I was inside.
The closet lifted into long shelves
where fetuses, far as the eye could see,
swam in jars, yellowed, curled in on themselves.
The door slammed shut behind me.
I stood there in the crypt-like dark and felt-- what?
Felt the silence entering my ear?  Felt a coordior opening in me?
A coordior like knowing, or the edge of knowing?
Inside me, the seed of the tree of knowledge
took root and began a furious blooming.
I heard him come in.  Heard him call my name.
Heard him mutter to himself; heard him leave again.
I heard a small noise that sounded like mice.
The sleeve of my labcoat was sticky.  I turned in the dark.
I found the handle and opened the door.
I stepped out; I didn't look back.
I closed the blinds and locked the outer door; I turned off
all the lights but one.
                                Then I went to the gurney
and pulled the covering off the man.  I looked
at him, at all of him.  Nothing to distinguish him:
no moles, tattoos, no birthmarks or scars.
Only the incision running from sternum to pubic thicket.
I couldn't tell clearly where the wound ended
and the body began.  I ran the seam of my thumb
along the long opened seam on the man.
"Here is where we meet," I told him,
"Here is where we are the same."
                     -from Flying Out with the Wounded