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Sticking Plaster               Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman

         Interim Constitution           Laid Out


Sticking Plaster


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.


Graham High

published (version) in Other Poetry 2006 (Series II, No. 31)




Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman

 Painting by Rembrandt, 1656 Amsterdam, Rijksmusuem


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.


Graham High

published in Poetry Salzburg Review No 11, Spring 2007





Interim Constitution


                When the tank came

                and the end of our house exploded

                it was

“A decisive moment in the history of Iraq”

                it was

                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.



Graham High

second prize, Red Pepper ‘poets against war’ and published in Red Pepper 2004;

read in the Iraq War Symposium at London University 2004





Laid Out

 in memory. W.J.H.


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.


Graham High

first published (version) in HQ poetry magazine No. 26, 2002


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