At the dissection, it was not the cracked thorax
split open like a beetle between
the flat grey folds of her breasts:
Not this which stuck. Nor
the cindered lungs, cut from the trachea,
scooped on a steel dish awaiting the knife
like a turkey dinner, withered,
Siamese-twinned, joined at the throat.
It was the patch of Band-Aid on her brow.
Livid pink, puckered on the grey gathers
of her skin, water-warped, the only
gainsay of her nakedness.
As if the corpse sat up,
it made her a person again. Just such
a hint of her history as its tiny acreage
could bring, seized my thought,
made me halt the scalpel.
Here was a woman who, before her final fall
into the canal, had battered herself
against a wall, or into someone else’s fist,
and who had been patched up.
Some neighbour, or passing stranger,
a charity worker in a day centre or perhaps
herself, had shown, in this plastic patch,
a small gesture of concern. Somehow,
between respect and distaste, the morticians
who washed the body had left it on, as if
its presence plastered over that join
we do not wish to contemplate.
An anatomy specimen with a past
becomes as incongruous as a foetus with stains
of nicotine or scars, repulsively human
at an inappropriate time.
I picked at its peeling edges with the scalpel,
its adhesive outline still emphasised in grime.
Still fixed. The only water-resisting thing
they hooked from the canal.
The surgeon slices knowledge with a knife,
cuts where the scalp enfolds the face like hair,
saws the shell of skull, then lays the brain bare
seeking in dead flesh the sources of life.
Alive to his own darkness he's aware
a corpse cannot give up its secret twice
but still he probes the long-vacated place
knowing no why or how, but only where.
The Egyptians, when embalming, replaced
the other organs yet dredged the head's dome
with hooks to clear it of the jellied mess.
The heart was held to be the spirit's home.
But we know better - that this wet, grey paste
is where we live—yet still we feel homeless.
When the tank came
and the end of our house exploded
“A decisive moment in the history of Iraq”
terrible because moma was out.
furniture fell into the street.
Water spurted everywhere.
We hid in the corner under a door,
and stayed very quiet until dark
When it got light again, Tameem cried.
I found some bread and cut it in three bits all the same.
“It is the Middle East’s first Bill of Rights”
Rasha must have some because
she is only a baby and needs feeding.
Tameem must have some because
his arm still bleeds where the wall fell on him.
And I must have some because
I am eight and must look after us all
until Moma comes back.
For two days we have tried
To hide in the dark, though the door
is too heavy for me to fix.
“There are still issues to be resolved”
and water is still coming down the wall.
We get in moma’s bed
because it is the biggest for the three of us
“Shias, Kurds and Sunnis will be equally empowered
to veto majority decisions”
—and because it is the only one left
No one has come for us.
Seated opposite you: your body,
trying to take it in through the senses—
a watcher—looking at how it seems.
Your corpse appears not dense or
heavy, but fragile and delicately
processed. Like the chewed wood
wasps abandon as a laminated shell
of paper cells. It's as if they made
an image of you here, all surface
and crisp details, left to the light.
Papery, your face is an unlit lantern.
I reach to touch your cheek,
so tentative it feels like tenderness,
and maybe is, except I stretch
to trace how much this face
is now no longer yours. I flinch,
almost guilty, at the liberty
of touch that need not weigh
response or feeling, intimate briefly,
with what will soon be ash.
Perhaps I last stroked your skin
like this when you were young, and I
only a boy, when I moulded your
face, laying you flat as you are now,
but laughing, as I dripped wet gypsum
over your mouth, your closed eyes,
and felt the life-drift of warm air
streaming from the breathing-straw
onto my hands as I dipped and slopped
the slip of oozing plaster over you.
Then, as now, you let me touch,
indulgent, and eager to see what you
already dubbed your "death mask",
But I wouldn't let you look until
the papier maché cast was finished.
I worked all night in my bedroom,
brushing gray pulp into the mould,
layering skin upon skin, spreading
the torn up paper, glue and whiting,
stroking your face, over and over.
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