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Leaving Coins on the Mouths of Cadavers at Emory Hospital, a Defense

At doctor camp, the teenagers wire up their lungs

and trigger monitor beeps by holding their breath.

All summer I chaperone, carrying the old coin purse

you shipped from Alaska, cracked leather packed

with unspent change and a quarter-sized bird

carved from caribou bone. Without nightfall,

you can’t miss me. Your fear earmarked for bears,

for the haunted lakes. While you drift in icy breakup,

I eavesdrop on my students telling ghost stories—

A headless woman rocks in a chair in a patient room.

When I ask if they’ve ever seen a decapitated body,

Jamie nods: he and his dad on the Ohio, bass fishing,

pawing their tangled net, and Mary something,

the missing girl, the one from the news—

Her calves were like the blue catfish we threw back.

We sit with the med school cadavers, plastic-veiled,

these overcast islands, and I can’t help but think

of you, standing in a flat-bottomed hull

with your lantern and your oar like a boatman

who might return home to ferry souls for a fee—

from Surgical WingFind more by Kristin Robertson at the library

Copyright © 2017 Kristin Robertson
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Published in Kristin Robertson Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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