Today's poem is by Oliver de la Paz

Self-Portrait with Taxidermy

In my anatomy studies, I expected
fetal pigs, the pink bodies flush
against plastic in a swirl of formaldehyde.

The lacquered workbenches of the lab
and the light from the fluorescents
made us all ghoulish with our tools.

I was ready to live with the smell,
to pin back the skin with the packet of pins
and the scalpels we were given.

Instead, the teacher pulled, from a refrigerator,
six pheasants he bagged
on a weekend excursion to the sage desert.

Our disappointment hung in our faces, but
we shucked it off. The smell of the body cavities
and blood was an interminable horizon.

A bucket of baking soda between us all,
we had to skin the things yet be gentle enough
to keep their skins intact. I settled in,

the dissection pans turned white from the powder
with drizzles of some unguent, something none of us
had ever witnessed. An occasional bead

clanged on my pan. My body was riddled
with buckshot. I wondered if I’d be able
to salvage even the idea of pheasant.

I too had killed a bird, a headshot
from several yards earlier in the year. The loon jerked
then folded like a napkin, its neck

sagging like stems from a cut flower.
No one saw me fire the gun, even though the shot
thundered long after. That late afternoon

I had felt volcanic. The clouds came and went,
everything sputtered . . . candle-sure,
the way the color of childhood was meant to be.

The body of a loon rippled some distance.
It would soon wash ashore. I was praying
the lake wouldn’t forsake me, utterly.

And when its form rolled up the bank, I was quick
to bury it, lest my father know that I had played
with the rifle and in my play, I had broken.

There is so much that clings to us, the licking sound
of the lake, the glint of a scalpel catching the green
aurorae from the humming fixtures.

The susurrations of our compressed breathing
was boundless. We were awaiting some deliverance
from our gory task. The V of a rifle sight

dipped true into afternoon biology. Our knives
rose and fell and we quickly scooped the white powder
into the wounds we made.

The pheasants were surely things that would call to us,
to choose us. For, one by one we are called
to make something ready. To give back form

and put everything back in its place.

Copyright © 2009 Oliver de la Paz All rights reserved
from The National Poetry Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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