This Poem was Submitted By: Thomas Edward Wright On Date: 2004-01-29 18:28:24 . . . Click Here To Mail this Poem to a Friend!

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we met them on the first day in the lab on the third floor, away from prying eyes and pranksters, off the busy street, and unmarked. no one, those who didn’t need to know, would have suspected we were there. in order to learn anatomy, you have to witness it like a child; first hand, get down inside it, hold it, fondle it, take it apart like an old engine, strip back the layers of paint and old trim, take off the shutters, down, down, down the long steps to the bottom. there were doors, like you’d open to go down into a cellar.  we opened them. inside was a zippered plastic bag. a tag with a number. we opened the plastic bag. the odor was so unfamiliar,  so obnoxious, some had to leave, white and shaking. we were silent.  like priests.  when we zipped open the bag the formalin ran out. i touched his chest with a gloved hand. firm.  like bacon from the fridge.   not supple.  not warm.    ritualistically, we named him.  everyone did it. all sixty cadavers had a name by the end of the first day - for some reason, maybe it’s easier, emotionally, to start there, that must be it -  we took a scalpel and we cut into martin’s axilla. he took us on a tour.  there’s martin,  and i’m shaving off his hair. then i slice it open.  i’m so nervous i barely scratch the surface. i am surprised that there is no bleeding. i am surprised that i am surprised. scratching again.  and again. finally i see the yellow fat below. the lab t. a. comes by.   one swipe and he’s in.  takes  a big clamp, spreads the fat. points to the artery.  the vein. the nerves.  we’d’ve been there all night if i had done it. none of us had ever  seen the insides of an arm pit. ever.  sure we’d spayed or spread the right guard in there amongst the curly hairs.  we wondered about why it was there, the hair, in our axillae.  but not before today. then i was showing martin the nerve bundles running from his neck to his hand.  yellowish wires wrapped around the axillary artery, heading for ice, fire, pins and zippers.  i wondered if martin  liked the radial nerve, especially  where it wrapped around the back  of the humerus. he’d broken his radius once, years ago (in the army during  boot camp?) – martin didn’t like to  talk.  i was showing martin how the axilla is an upside-down pyramid, with the wide base here where the hair grows, narrowing to the peak deep in the arm pit, as if i was an expert in anatomy and he  just a novice medical student finding out where a nerve runs, how it fits into the nooks and crannies.   that first day, the first encounter, the day the formalin invades your b.o., and your best friend is a cadaver whose name isn’t martin but you name him that so he doesn’t lie there for two quarters without one, you know that day that martin liked nerves. you are thanking martin for being  the foresighted kind of guy who would sign his name to a document that would allow you to clumsily slice your way through his brachial plexus like you knew what you were doing, where you were going, how you would sign your name on the prescription pad when martin’s niece came in and needed birth control pills because every young doctor is an idealistic young liberal who believes in choice and this is clearly what a good doctor - down the stairs.  and down some more. you didn’t ever know what you’d find down at the bottom of that next flight. if you expected a soft landing, then you  fell.  when you expected to fall, you flew. the stairs were never straight, never even, never of the same material, the rise and run uneven and trippingly scary.  it wasn’t the names of the body parts.  nor was it the color of the inside of the eye, the ovaries, or the glistening meniscus of the left knee. the bottom of the stairs came into view when a young punk student began to see this bag of formalinized leather and bones was an important member of society, someone whose legacy had come from a long line of grave-robbed and  middle-of-the-dissected-night folk whose contribution to medicine had largely been unsung and unrecognized outside the profession.  many of these people had deliberately donated their remains to science, that a tradition now dating back to vesalius and da vinci continued to this day, in this room with this man and me - and then i closed the bag.   and then i closed the metal lid. and whenever i write a prescription,  or whenever i seek a nerve with a needle and lay a dose of local anesthetic in just the right spot so a surgeon who cut open his martin one day long ago can open a hand and repair it without the slightest interest from the snoozing patient i thank all the martins of the world for what they did one day when asked the simple question:  “where are you going when you die?” one week-end after a late Friday afternoon before the final, i took his heart and buried it. everyone wondered what had happened to martin’s heart.  i never told them. on the south side of the frat across the street we had tulips that sprouted every spring. martin’s heart came up the next year. they were bright red, and tall and  someone thought that on certain days, if the light was just right there was a  to and fro to the glow that emanated – i just thought they were the most beautiful  tulips  i’d ever seen.   i just called them martins.

Copyright © January 2004 Thomas Edward Wright

Additional Notes:
i posted this on MLK weekend without making the connection. i pulled it in respect for him. i submit this now in response to several inquiries. i thank you for your interest, your patience, and reiterate: this has Nothing to do with MLK.

This Poem was Critiqued By: Claire H. Currier On Date: 2004-02-06 14:34:31
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.59302
Interesting read.....good structure, nice word flow, images well this reader has had a few and then more so it has been good.....did the other poem posted have a different name? I seem to remember it being somewhat different but enjoyeable just the same....would not change a thing it stands ever so wellas it is.....thanks for posting and sharing with those tulips were indeed the most beautiful you ever did see....... what kind of a doctor are you? just being nosey safe and God Bless, Claire

This Poem was Critiqued By: marilyn terwilleger On Date: 2004-02-01 21:39:07
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.55263
Hi Tom, I saw this poem high on the winners list and decided I should read it...little did I know what a treat it would be. I was not aware that you are a Doctor but after I read just a few of your words I knew you were. I was actually glued to my computer screen as I read this and couldn't wait to see how it ended...and as I expected it was superb. In fact rarely have I read a piece that even compares to this read. I could easily identify with the reason you named 'martin' as I don't see how anyone, even a med student, could probe into another human body and be impersonal...even tho I am sure that is what is expected. I worked for a physcian for many years and every day was a learning experience as he loved to teach. He shared some of his experiences with me and his early days in the lab were much like yours. You must have a soft and gentle side...and probably don't want that to leak out...for you to have buried 'martin's' heart. I have to admit that I got that all too familure lump in my throat when you wrote....'i just thought they were the most beautiful tulips i had ever seen... i just called them 'martins'...Beautiful!!!! Peace...Marilyn
This Poem was Critiqued By: Elaine Marie Phalen On Date: 2004-02-01 20:34:53
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.75000
Whew! This is an astonishing tour-de-force and an extremely important poem, to boot. You lead us where few can ever enter and we learn more than we'd imagined possible. (At least, I know I have done so). It's hard to know what to say, really. This rises above and beyond my critical skill. The lower-case "i" and "martin" serves to underline our relative lack of signifiance to the overall unfolding of the human destiny. Yet martin serves his instructive purpose and the speaker fulfils his own half of the bargain by becoming a doctor, who now understands what lies beneath the surface. The stairs down into the morgue also parallel the speaker's descent into the cadaver, deeper and deeper. In the end, the tulips offer a sort of absolution to the speaker for having intruded into martin's chest cavity and removed his heart. The rationale for its burial is never explicitly stated but we can comprehend it nonetheless. The flowers themselves are egg-shaped and imply a form of immortality. The bright redness is the color of blood and, therefore, of life. Over and over, martin's memory is resurrected ... and he stands for all the martins, the plural of your title, who allow us to peer into them and memorize their secrets. One small slip: sure we’d spayed or spread the right guard in there amongst the curly hairs. You want "sprayed", unless you are doing very weird things to your armpits. This may almost be "too much poem" to glean the requisite numbers of votes for a top placing ... but I hope not! Even readers who tend to bypass lengthy works will find themselves inexorably pulled into this one. It says far more than most poetry manages to accomplish. It's rare and splendid. Brenda
This Poem was Critiqued By: Mell W. Morris On Date: 2004-01-30 19:57:17
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.94118
T.: Glad to know what happened to your heart poem and that it has been posted again. This effort rivals your December masterpiece but I lack the stamina these days to do a good crit, especially on a longer poem. I like the title, read it as martens, thought it was about birds, had to look again, and it fits perfectly with the ending. You also begin in an apposite place...the first day the med students meet their cadavers. I like, too, that the bldg. is deliberately deceptive in order to keep the process private. Your second stanza provides a solid meataphor for the process about to begin and the old-engine example is a good one. You clearly bring us to stand in your shoes which is good, good writing to pull the readers in so well. The third stanza describes the unbagging of the cadaver, the stench is so finely limned, I could almost smell it myself. (I've been in my sister's lab when similar events were occurring). The simile of "silent like priests" elevates the level here and shows yours and others' respect of what were once people. Your second simile in the stanza, the body feeling like bacon, seems quite strange as a choice of comparison but who am I to question your sensation and word usage? The naming of the bodies is a tender moment; it tenderizes and personalizes the way the students feel and that gives me a good feeling. The med students are depicted here as humane: a quality often absent in today's practioners. "For some reason..." and go on to point out you begin with the arm pit as it makes it easier for the students. Then you describe your attempts at trying to cut martin open, a very honest and touching account of how you felt, making tentative scratches. I find your restraint with the scapel speaks well of you...and I have assumed from the start...(never assume)... that this is your own personal experience from med school. Likely that is the most common error made by critics...namely that the speaker in the poem equates with the person who wrote it. After you are into the arm pit, you begin showing martin his body laid open and discussing the nerves, veins, etc, and you note an old fracture in his radius. "martin didn't like to talk." T. at his best with the insertion of his gallows humor which makes this piece even richer and more textured. The next stanza is of reflection about the kind of person who would donate his remains for research and what price will be exacted from you for martin's generosity. "down the stairs." This stanza seems misplaced and not particularly of great importance to the poem as a whole. The epiphany when the "young punk student" sees the process with new eyes, whose respect toward the cadavers has risen during his period of study and then... "and then i closed the bag. and then i closed the metal lid." delivers a whammy. Nothing else to be said. Placed apart for emphasis, it is evocative in its understatement. Then you tell us how that period with martin still impacts you today as physician. This stanza is way cool, to quote the kid next door. Then the poem takes a delightful, wonderful shift. You bury martin's heart in a tulip bed.... "martin's heart came up the next year..... if the light was just right there was a to and fro to the glow that emanated- i (just) thought they were the most beautiful tulips i'd ever seen. i just called them martins." Such artistry herein..."to and fro to the glow". And you called the red, tall tulips martins. That is the quintessential ending to a splediferous (Joanne's word) poem. This is a special poem, quite credible, humorous but the element I find most surprising and touching is its tenderness. To continue would be to keep heaping encomium and tribute upon this wonderful poem which I hope everyone else appreciates. A winner, T., a major step forward in your journey of poetry. Best always, Mell-o
This Poem was Critiqued By: Joanne M Uppendahl On Date: 2004-01-30 14:54:29
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.90476
Tom: I've always wondered what it would be like to dissect a cadaver. Now I have an impression that will always stay with me. The other ones were formed by residents performing an autopsy on The Learning Channel. But they are not poets. You are. And I get what you meant by "punch line" - on the south side of the frat across the street we had tulips that sprouted every spring. martin’s heart came up the next year. they were bright red, and tall and someone thought that on certain days, if the light was just right there was a to and fro to the glow that emanated – i just thought they were the most beautiful tulips i’d ever seen. i just called them martins. Humanity and tenderness shine through this poem. Are there Doctor Poet books out yet? You raise the hope that I think all of us cherish that our physicians will look at us with compassion. This is a poem that sustains a reader, rather than a diversion. The quality of my life has just inched up a notch, because of you. Amazingly difficult to read and correspondingly rewarding. I read it on an empty stomach, which wasn't a good idea. But the part I have cut and pasted above redeemed every moment of squirming. I think you're kinda wonderful and I *know* that that is not the point. Jo
This Poem was Critiqued By: Regis L Chapman On Date: 2004-01-29 22:56:53
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.32000
Wow. Each poem you write is very interesting in the sense that your profession sort of leaks out of you through this medium. I like that you can put together these very clinical things with something so tender at the end. Very impressive. One wonders if this is a true story..? Having just been through some surgeries, I have often asked myself some questions about the compassion of the people I am dealing with. This poem is excellent for the reminder that in fact, they are. Maybe it's the system itself which pushes people through and breaks down the process into Henry Ford's assembly line, I don't know. Thanks, REEG!
This Poem was Critiqued By: Erzahl Leo M. Espino On Date: 2004-01-29 20:55:03
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.54545
Hi Thomas, Oh Thomas, you are like a genie in a bottle. My wish has been granted. Thanks for reposting this amazing piece. Now, I know why you hide this beauty. I'm just glad it is back. I hope you don't mind if I repost also my comments about this that I already said in my comment to your earlier poem "For Mikey and Naneen": "I am deeply moved by this unique entry. I cannot deny that the poem “For Martin” truly touched my life forever. You have brought such sensitive topic into something that we can learn and reflect into our lives. Yes, these cadavers are once individuals who had a life, who walked this earth, who were just like us. It truly makes me wonder on what stories these strangers have during their lifetime. Who are these heroes / martyrs in the medical field? It was just a question in my mind before…but in “For Martin” you somehow clear my questions…and told quite an amazing story that satisfied my curiosity. “i thought they were the most beautiful tulips i’d ever seen. i just called them martins.” --- These are unforgettable lines. It will always haunt me forever. Bright red tulip bulbs – Martin’s heart. Just excellent! Hmmmm….haiku is now playing in my mind… :) Again, thanks for this profound entry. Another winner! As always, Erzahl :)
This Poem was Critiqued By: arnie s WACHMAN On Date: 2004-01-29 20:52:45
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 8.13333
I'm not quite sure why you pulled the poem out of respect for MLK day. In Canada we do not honour that day at all (nor the rest of the world so I don't see what the significance of pulling it means or matters). Anyway, my crit the first time still stands. It though, takes me back to the first eye I was a sheep's eye btw. Neat-0. Yes, I still can't get used to the smell of formalin or ether. Thank goodness that the latter has been discontinued. Cheers.
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