Stanford University, Class of 2014, Palo Alto, California, United States (Winter 2011)
Poet’s statement: This poem was inspired by stories about gross anatomy. Although I haven’t entered medical school yet, I am fascinated by the questions about identity and the soul that arise when the living examine the dead. “Cadaver Palavers” is an imaginative exploration of what it would be like to be not the examiner, but the examined.
Even as they study me, I study them.
The pulse of breath and electricity,
The luminous reflex of a colored shutter,
The heat exuded through their scrubs and gloves
Proves the intricacy of a species of machinery
That I once was.
In me, they try to find an archetype,
A map to morbid treasure troves,
A blueprint in the flesh by which
Some architect of blood and bones
Could sculpt its doll.
Focus guides the path of their scissors,
Dread drives the pace of their blades.
Before each gouge, they gauge
The distance between their instrument and me, between
My fate and theirs.
In them, I sense repulsion at
The tinge and plastic wrinkles of my skin,
The formaldehyde that flows and fills
The tributaries of my vessels
In place of blood.
Sometimes they seek a vein in vain,
Sometimes my nerves get on theirs,
But the artistry of my arteries,
The complexity of my plexuses
Beguiles their minds.
Though they name me, wrap me up each night
As if to keep my gelid organs warm,
They divide and hide themselves from me,
Shrouding my face so as not to see
Me watching them.
These hands that they at present poke and puncture
To get to know as well as the back of theirs
Once performed the same perusal upon
The strings and sinews of a hardened hand, peeled
As mine is now.
I knew what students do to those who choose
To dedicate the vessels of their existence;
I understood the need to help them understand,
But I could not have known what they will learn at death:
My soul remains.
AUBRIE LEE thinks of herself as a multifaceted individual. While she maintains an interest in the sciences and hopes to pursue a career in medicine, she has always had a passion for the arts. Creative writing, fine arts, and graphic design are just a few of the artistic aptitudes that she aims to develop as a member of Stanford University’s Class of 2014. For Ms. Lee, a prominent source of inspiration—as well as one of perspective—is her severe form of muscular dystrophy.