Musings on Two Women’s Bodies

Mariana Middents
Smith College, Northampton, USA


“Musings on Two Women’s Bodies” compares the bodies of a young love interest and a donated cadaver dissected in a lab. The poem highlights the similarities and differences in a dead body and a living one, and showcases the ways in which the physical form is beautiful both during and after life.

Yesterday I heard the unmistakable sound of hemostat tapping on bone – 

The spinous process of a cervical vertebra of a woman we have named Doris.

The professor’s smart rapping on the back of a dead woman’s vertebra

Telling us, yes, we had uncovered bone

Through motions of a scalpel that removed muscle in such a way that I was reminded

Of pulled pork sandwiches and the laughter of a younger time.

Yesterday you were beautiful – 

That moment you fluttered down to the bottom of the deep end and touched the textured floor,

Two graves deep.

And you were beautiful when your toes gripped the bottom and your knees bent and your thighs flexed

To propel you back to me.

You were beautiful when you broke the surface with one arm outstretched

And gasped in a lungful of air and panted as you pulled your goggles off your face.

Everything about you is beautiful,

Even the alien rings your goggles left behind,

And even your tangled mess of hair when you wrestle the swim cap off to let the pink dye breathe,

And even your crisscrossed lines of pale skin on tan feet because you wear sandals into December.

And you. 

You are beautiful, 

Even when you dive to the bottom and I watch you from under the chlorine surface,

But I can’t bring myself to join you there.

The human form was something I appreciated from afar –

Something I pondered in museums

And chased alone in my bed at night.

But the bodies of women were something I never had the freedom to explore

Until I spent three hours each Thursday in a tiny lab,

Crowded around a woman who wasn’t named Doris in life.

Skin of the shoulder is thick, but skin of the upper back is thin.

I haven’t felt it warm,

But the papery skin of ankles and feet slips from its attachments

To adipose and to vessels that criss-cross her foot

Like the straps of sandals she doesn’t wear anymore.

Her thighs have softened in old age, 

And I have seen the evidence of this,

Removed layers of fat from her and placed it in labeled bags

Like gifts to be kept safe in a padlocked freezer.

I have seen the nerves that wind from the cervical vertebrae into the brain,

And all I can think about is touching you there – 

On the back of your neck, 

Sending shivers that echo into your toes.

I have felt the skin wrinkle, tug, thicken,

And all I can imagine is discovering the skin on your body – 

Perhaps you would be laid out as she is,

While I touched you.

I have seen the inside of the second middle phalange after an electric bone saw’s slice,

And all I can picture is your hands – 

Reaching towards the surface of the water,

Reaching towards me as I mirror you,

But never touching.