Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

After inspection – Inheritance – Summation

Shirley Stephenson


After Inspection

Palpation, table
to skin. The tumblehome
ribcage seeking amen.

Three times
light, organs figure
an aquarium.

Muzzled one hand
sensing the other
active to pressure,

volar surface.
Turgor discriminates

Percussion borders
tone. Clapotis
caravans. Density,

an oarlock murmur,
proper blows delivered.
Tympany snared

in underlying
glaciers. Judgment
within the hull

resonates passage.
What variation,
asks the bell.

Oscillation and vice
versa amplify
origins, sequelae.

Contour of ear
tuned to each barely
audible adjournment.



The flowers of his childhood
guarded tombs of duty.

Ranunculus top growth
abed winter’s limestone.

Plumes of tobacco
in the voicebox. Crepe myrtle,

sea salt along an oil rig.
A father’s watch. The pillar

of his childhood a chin
held high, a woman hauling

lamps to pay her daughter’s
doctors. A family engineered

for sacrifice. Chrysanthemum,
hydrangea. The smoke–

a namesake pocketed misty,
referenced and revered,

unfinished. Bleached linens,
failure and approximation.

Doctors without ears,
and once a doctor who took

his hand. The season
was horizontal and prophetic,

a last ride with the windows
down. Primrose and gilia

wild along a roadside, golden
throats open to passing.


Some organs are absent
from the brain map–
heart, liver, spleen.

You know you have one
but there’s no felt image.
Pain or pleasure

originating here refers
to another. The heart
in your hands.
Your voice resonates

in the atrium, ante room
to what might be
what might be
four chambers

through which we pass
once and in one direction.

My atrial kick,
my pulse, you
are summation,

frequent and consecutive
perceived as one vast
standing ovation.

You I feel
in my bones, zones
of minerals. We spend
our lives mining.

This could be called

Wish. Extinguish,

inspiratory, expiratory.
Give up
reserves. Close the eyes
sinister and dexter.

Whorls of would-be
rise counterclockwise
to the apex

of your impulse.
Bloody fist aimed
at your holster,
your fast draw.

Residual is the air
permanently trapped
within. The wish

is your hat trick,
stairwell kisses. –
Hope sets out upon

Residual remains
in your topography.

Pleasure originating here
refers to your
peripheral heart,

a gallop
bearing you
carrying you.



SHIRLEY STEPHENSON is an ER nurse and writer. She is currently studying to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. Prior to becoming a nurse she worked as a communications and development professional for a global health non-profit and later a literary organization. She has lived and worked in Latin America and the Caribbean. Her writing, which has been supported in part by an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship, has appeared in various literary journals, including Southern Review, Diagram, Ninth Letter, Black Warrior Review, and others.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Summer 2009- Volume 1, Issue 4
Summer 2009  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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