Leveler Poetry Journal
About Leveler Submission Guidelines More Poems

They’ve Skinned the Dead

While touring Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds Exhibit in Denver, CO

Walking the exhibit where they’ve skinned the dead

and positioned them like ice skaters, lovers, archers,

I should be contemplating mortality and matter,

the slowly failing connections

of bone, ligament, and muscle,

but I can’t stop staring at the penises.

I circle the glass enclosures for better angles,

and the curator claims everything is real,

but the dicks look plastic and white,

like the non-smoker’s lungs

at the entrance of this aesthetic meat locker.

Jillian refuses to walk with me

after “The Hurdler” brings me to laughter.

It’s the athlete’s scissored legs,

the closeness of hurdle and plastic member.

I cringe at possible collision,

my hands involuntarily cup my groin.

Then: I imagine the intern positioning the scene

with hanging body and obstacle,

the smoking artist demanding,

drag the hurdle closer.

At the heart display,

a boy and his parents

hover over the spot lit corner case.

They point, bow their heads in unison,

then quiet suddenly,

and the boy keeps his eyes

open during the prayer.

He’s studying the fist-sized organ,

stares it down like it’s the last

unknowable thing in the universe,

and it isn’t until they pass me that

I notice the protrusion,

the baseball-sized bulge

under the boy’s 49ers shirt,

directly over his heart.

If they have to go back in

will he waive off the drugs,

and beg to peek at the one muscle

throbbing him alive?

One cut cadaver displays his snaking entrails,

another grabs her knees,

arching open a neatly rowed spinal column,

and there’s an unwrapped, sinewy pair

fighting for a hockey puck with plastic helmets,

ice skates, and regulation sticks.

Did these men know what they

signed up for when they donated their bodies?

Did they ever play hockey,

or is this is their first time?

My body numbs to this fleshless art,

to brains and blood vessels and penises and disease.

I figure I won’t be able to eat meat for a week

when I spot Jillian, stone-faced hypnotized

in front of a series of lit glasses.

It’s a room of fetuses from five-weeks on,

preserved whiter than the non-smoker’s lungs.

One glass holds a nine-week fetus,

same age as the one Jillian warms inside her,

and she reaches out to touch the glass

but uniformed security warns, Can’t touch,

so she feels her own body, just below the belt,

and we watch the suspended replica of our child,

curled and quiet, float.

Jesse Goolsby