Part I: The first time I saw you
I met John
Part II: Cadaver as Decapod
John was surely a hermit crab, having four small limbs to anchor the body and six long
limbs to advance it. He gathered sea anemones on his back, and weeds in his spiny beard. He bore
stellate scars, the digitated marks of five pointed teeth. There was a constellation of them, surely
from the care of blue spined urchins. The urchins couldn’t make him stay. Did they evict him or
had he just outgrown his home?
Surely, his soft belly was turned out to the brine, the ocean full of predators. In each eye of
many lenses, what did he see? Was he afraid to scuttle from this white ribbed shell to the larger?
Perhaps not. He trusted he could replace his old limbs. He could carry anemones to protect him.
He would fear neither octopus, nor fellow crabs, nor stars.
We can pick at the questions, we each with ten limbs: sharp scissors, blunt scissors, olive
point probe, teasing wooden handled straight needle, thumb forceps, “fitted teeth” tissue forceps
with 1×2 jaws, Jones artery forceps, straight eye forceps, stout probe, and scalpel. Trace his spiral
atria. Study the attachments–how his limbs clung to this concavity. Then, saw from sinus
through concha, and chisel to where his eyes hid. We know just the angle and just the force to pince
We are surely young hermit crabs, still small enough to make John’s shell our new home.
Part III: Ode to the Donor
My practiced nonchalance at pulling
fat from skin could not prepare me for
the treasures that I found within:
a perfect ruby–the size of a pea, a piano,
its thousand strings, and worn
white lacquer keys.
Beside a river was a crane bowed low against the dawn,
to welcome every cargo load,
to lift on and on and on.
Volumes of voice and discipline were written in his flesh.
Could I study only
syllables, their pathways and their breadth?
What is the body’s story?
A machine at its best? A way to know hunger,
and sickness and death?
I ask this remnant
of a face. I wait
and watch your lips.
I ask, what is a body? You say,
When time for giving
time was gone, still you gave again.
Was it to cease the ceasing, or yield to end as end?
May I too give beyond to heal the hurt and bruised.
It is my only way to say,
“John, thank you.
About the poet:
Yun Lan (a pen name) is a rising third-year medical student. She wants to thank all those at her medical school who have encouraged her poetry.
About the poem:
I wanted to describe phases in my experience of anatomy lab. I also wanted to write a piece to share at my school’s Convocation of Thanks, a ceremony in honor of those whose remains we’ve dissected during our anatomy labs.
Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro