The body bags reeking of formaldehyde rested on
steel tables like butterfly cocoons
tucked in a hatchery.
I unzipped number nineteen where you,
or rather, the pale yellow,
darkening constellation of you lay waiting.
It was the end of the semester. The students had sawed
through your sternum. Your lungs, burned black
from years of cigarette smoke, leaned
against your left arm. Your hand
(the wrinkled fingers,
nails still pink with polish) twitched when
I pulled the long palmar muscle.
Give it a try, I said a little more bluntly than I expected.
You were kind enough to overlook
my embarrassment, my awkward belief
that someone, a husband or hospice worker,
in the ice-crusted, bare blown season
of final amends must have loved you.
Whoever you were, whatever travail of life
you called your own, even in death
you were quicker than I was.
I pushed the split halves of your face together
as if in the cracked chrysalis of flesh,
gone, long gone, I could still find you,
the lucent beam,
the unmade aperture still shining
in the dust before you were born.