BODIES REVEALED EXHIBITION | Joanna White

 

Our exhibitions have over 200 actual human bodies

and specimens meticulously dissected and respectfully displayed


We snake past the glass case of the musician, see

the death lock of his orbicularis oris, permanently


pressing reed to ebonite. We cock our heads, can almost

hear the gold-throated wail of his bari-sax, sniff


the smoke rings whiffling up spotlight cones, feel

the nightclub thrust of his pelvis. An evening it took


for his jazzy riffs to dislodge the melancholy

from his listeners, curled on their bar stools,


but a whole year for the plastic to infiltrate

his body in the vacuum chamber, turning him


to rubber. I snake through the exhibit, each body

silicon-polymer-preserved in its final action: a clutch


round a softball never thrown, a crouch

for the race that would never begin, dancer held


at the pinnacle, a curled fetus that never left

its womb. Years later, my grown daughter


does not remember this museum visit

but there she is on its front steps, preserved


in my photo album with a grin

for the camera. This before the month her third


grade teacher calls to say that my girl

turned in a blank quiz about the body

and when I ask my daughter why? The body

is too gross. Look, I tell my children, back

at the exhibit when they ogle the frozen bicyclist,

kick to mimic the soccer player, at all the things

the body is made to do, but they know; they have not

yet learned shame. My long ago childhood full

of medical terror, I do not sleep the night before

Bodies Revealed, but am quite safe until

I reach the final room, keeping an eye

on my children so I almost miss the vertical

case against the back wall, do not see its label,

but recognize instead the suspended

shapes, two fist-sized kidneys attached to spindly

ureters. I always pictured kidneys as small

as beans, objects so tiny that one’s absence

from a child could be overlooked, but a fist

cut out could leave a hole

the shape and size of a human heart

 

Joanna White, who studied poetry with Robert Fanning and Jeffrey Bean, has works in The Examined Life Journal, Healing Muse, Hospital Drive, West Texas Poetry Review, Temenos, The MacGuffin, Measure, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Earth’s Daughters, Dunes Review, KYSO Flash Anthology No. 2, and the Poetry and Medicine column of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), among others. The music professor has performed her poems recently in Michigan, Florida, and in Iowa at the Examined Life Conference. joannawhitepoet.com

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