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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.
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 us.......bet those tulips were indeed the most beautiful you ever did see....... what kind of a doctor are you? just being nosey ......be safe and God Bless, Claire
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