They look so real, I think, these bodies
drained of goop and dried for students
to pull apart like leather clocks.

Skin peeled away and pinned
open, the insides become sculpture.
It’s the stubble that troubles me.

Scrubbed up and blue-gloved,
I can’t resist the urge to hold my palms
before me like surgeons I’ve seen on TV.
I flinch when the door slams shut
from the air pressure used
to ventilate the room. I spot

on the table a head
sawed so clean the
eyeball still
rests in its socket
like a tiny, plastic
Easter egg emptied.

Each is, or was, elderly: the body's
return— ashes to ashes and such—
is arrested chemically.
They don’t look like dust.

The lab tech says to treat them
as if they were alive. This lady’s
bones are so thin, you’ll break
both femurs if you yank.

The saw offers us a side-view:
coccyx tucked in, tucked
like a tail—curled like a finger relaxing...

my grandmother's, after she nudged
a playing card my way,
all the red diamonds
aligned with her hand.


W. Vandoren Wheeler
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