Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Sunday Poet: Lawrence Kessenich

Lawrence Kessenich

Lawrence Kessenich won the 2010 Strokestown International Poetry Prize. His poetry has been published in Sewanee Review, Atlanta Review, Poetry Ireland Review and many other magazines. He has a chapbook called Strange News and two full-length books, Before Whose Glory and Age of Wonders. He has had three poems nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Kessenich has also published essays, had short plays produced at festivals in Boston, New York and Durango, Colorado, and his first novel, Cinnamon Girl, will be published in September 2016.

It was my job to retrieve the body from the giant cooler.

I’d wheel it on its gurney to the autopsy table, remove the cold
white sheet, slide the corpse off the cart onto the table. It was

part of my job at the hospital near my college. The night before
my first autopsy, I lay in bed terrified, my girlfriend holding me

as I contemplated being alone with a dead body in a basement.
That was what freaked me out, not the prospect of watching

a white-coated man cut someone from breastbone to pubic mound.
One day, that someone was a man I knew, my father’s old boss, dead

of cancer while I was on call. I asked the pathologist if I could leave,
if it got to be too much, but learned a lesson about mortality that day.

The man I pulled onto that table, the body the doctor sliced wide open,
was no longer the man I’d known, the man whose grass I’d cut.

Whoever he had been at the core, whatever had animated
his gruff voice and green eyes, had simply departed. Seeing that

made it difficult for me, a budding atheist, not to believe 
in a soul. The body the doctor and I took apart that day was inert 

as the Visible Man model I’d disassembled as a boy, each organ
tucked neatly against the other as we removed them

one by one. A man is not just the sum of his parts. Something,
goes along for the ride, something that makes us who we are—

until it leaves us cold, ready for the knife and the grave.

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