Poet's Choice: "Post-Mortem" by Nicky Beer

By Nicky Beer
Sunday, November 1, 2009

Several years ago, I saw a fascinating documentary about medical cadavers called "Still Life: The Humanity of Anatomy." The film profiled both the anatomy students who worked with the bodies, as well as a man who was planning to donate his body to science. I was particularly touched by how the students endeavored to be respectful to their subjects, even going so far as to have a memorial service for them at the end of the year. Around the same time, I had to get an ultrasound of my kidneys. I remember vividly the sight of my bladder, ghostly and greenish on the monitor, and realizing that even though it had been working tirelessly on my behalf for my whole life, this was the first time I had ever seen it.

These two experiences made me consider how relative the idea of intimacy can be. On the one hand, those medical students, necessarily, will never know the names, occupations, passions or fears of their subjects, but they will relate to the bodies in a way that is completely unique, inaccessible even to the subjects' loved ones. It's alienating and tender all at once, and "Post-Mortem" is a reflection of that paradox. I haven't decided whether or not I'll donate my own body to science, but I do love the thought of it still being able to speak for me even after I've passed away.

(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)


To me, you have bequeathed
a half-dissolved
apple, a spider,
and three crescents
of your fingernails.

A large Y of black stitches
has split your trunk into thirds --
a child's rendition
of a bird migrating
towards your feet.

The arc of the scar
on your right calf
reminds me of a hooked trout
I once saw leaping
from the surge of a stream,

a curve of light shaped
by the moment between life
and the infinite space
just above it.

Smoke-browned fish on a white plate,
dawn-grey body on a silver table --
we do not like to linger
on how the dead may still nourish us.

Later, I will tell your family
what no one ever knew,
but you may have suspected:

you had two exquisite,
plum-colored kidneys,
lustrous and faultless
as the surface of a yolk.

Nicky Beer teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, where she co-edits the journal Copper Nickel. "Post-Mortem" will appear in her upcoming collection "The Diminishing House" (Carnegie Mellon).

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