Coroner’s Report: Poem for Tom Sloane

The pessimistic parts of me
All thought we were heading
For an autopsy
You and I
In your clinically white bedroom
Identifying the cause of death
Sharp and sterile
And dispassionate
Both of us knowing full well
What we will find
Weighing on the chest cavity,
Blocking the throat
Heart murmurs but low pressure
Slow paralysis below the neck
And a neurological disconnect

But I have been looking at the wrong charts, haven’t I?

Nothing was dead on scene
There was no Code Black called
And this is not
An autopsy

Only with scalpel in hand
Do I understand
That this is vivisection

Vital signs are present on
Both ends
And I have made incisions
Unanesthetized
Into what I thought to be
Dead tissue

And there is more bleeding
Than I expected
And I do not know
What to dissect now

And even as your imaginary framed diplomas
Seem sometimes suspect
I take comfort
In your expertise
Because I know how to take stock
Of a thing deceased.

I know how to detach
And to fill cavities with sterilizing fluid
What to preserve
And what
To burn
I can compartmentalize memory
With canopic-jar ceremony
To be damned someday later
For my crippling accuracy

But I am not in the business of preserving life

The thing on the table is moving
Breathing
Bleeding
And I know that malpractice
Is written all over this
But take the scalpel from my hands
If you still trust them
Set it aside
And let’s see if we can’t
Put in some stitches.

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