The Anatomy Lesson

By Bruce Bond

Featured Art: The Brook by Paul Cézanne

after Rembrandt

Why they look away is anyone’s guess,
these men apprenticed to the evidence,

gathered at the corpse the dark context
makes bright inside the surgical forum.

Anyone’s guess why, at this instant,
even the teacher looks past his subject,

the harp strings of these extended tendons
raised up from the bed of the open wound.

A spectacle, it seems, for no one there,
for though they lean in, wide-eyed, severe,

they look instead at the anatomy volume
propped up in the center of the room,

or at us, the viewer, the painter, the future
that stares back with the blindness of a mirror.

If it’s true, they look down now and then,
it is never when we are looking at them,

transfixed by the painter’s eye, long deceased,
whose gaze touches everything we see.

It frees us, to see a thing as being seen,
to understand it more, and less, as science

in its mercy would put aside our grief.
Not just what we feel for the man himself,

but for his mother, his child, this brotherhood
that binds each eye to the sight of blood.

The painter knows. The corpse is a stranger,
a thief, fresh from the executioner’s floor.

And yet, if you look close at the navel,
you will see the painter’s faint initial,

the dark R curled into the silent shelter.
Call it pride, wit, the embalming fluid of art.

Call it reclamation. Whatever the reason,
an artist lies inside it, inside the criminal

who, for all we know, broke down with none
to see him at the gallows, to speak his name.


Bruce Bond is the author of twenty-seven books including, most recently, Rise and Fall of the Lesser Sun Gods (Elixir Prize, Elixir Press, 2018), Frankenstein’s Children (Lost Horse, 2018), Dear Reader (Parlor, 2018), Plurality and the Poetics of Self (Palgrave, 2019), Words Written Against the Walls of the City (LSU, 2019), and Scar (Etruscan, 2020). His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including seven editions of Best American Poetry.

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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