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Cadaver Studies

Anne Whitehouse

                                   a cento, for Tiffany Fisk


I’d learned that the fascia hold

the muscles and organs in place,

but it wasn’t what I expected,

not a net, but more like fuzz

or cotton candy,

tougher in some areas

and finer in others.


Reflecting back the cadaver’s skin

revealed superficial fascia

cradling globes of fat,

each encased in its own membrane,

some pea-sized or like a grain of corn,

and the deep fascia below

covering the muscles.


The patterns in her body 

showed me how she used her body.

The rotation of her rib basket,

the rotation of her leg,

from habits that formed over time.


How distinct the muscles are

when you dissect into them,

the wide ribbon of latissimus dorsi,

subscapularis inside the armpit.

When I moved her arm,                                                                                  the fiber layers of pectoralis major

did their little twist.


It took eight of us three hours

to dissect her posterior.

I was surprised by the thickness

of the thoracolumbar fascia.

Its pearly-white aponeurosis

was as dense as a muscle connected

to her sitting bones. No wonder

so many people have low back pain.


The fascia is thin at the trapezius,

where the muscle fibers

lie in three directions

to move head, neck, and arm.

I saw how the lats and traps come down

and the rhomboids attach.

All was exactly like the textbooks

and different at the same time.


When we eviscerated her,

it was strangely not strange.

I used clippers to snip the ribs

and pulled them back to reveal

the heart and the lungs,

the diaphragm attaching

to the pericardium.

Except for the first rib,

they snapped easily.


The heart was full of red strings

that felt like spaghetti.

The alveoli of the lungs felt grainy,

like mashed-up Rice Krispies.

We made a tracheotomy

and inserted a straw.

When we blew through it,

the lungs inflated.


Then there were the stomach,

the spleen, the liver.

I was unprepared

for the size of the liver.

She had only one kidney

and one ovary the size

of my fingernail.

The other had a cyst.


I opened the gall bladder,

and bile came out.

I opened the stomach,

and its contents came out.

There was so much poop

in the large intestine,

yet the smell of the cadaver

was not a fleshy smell,

but a product of the juices

that remain in the body

as it goes from being alive

to being dead.


In her past she’d suffered a trauma.

She’d had knee, hip, and shoulder

surgeries on her right side.

Internal sutures ringed her abdomen.


I wanted to see how her hip

articulated from the inside.

I started on the iliac crest

of her bad hip. The tissue

was fatty and grisly, the sutures

tough to get through at first,

but they came apart easily,

and I fanned out the muscles

stabilizing the hip—

gluteus maximus, medias,

and minimus, the external

rotators, psoas, iliacus—

that keep the femur tight

in the socket.


When I pulled them aside,

there was a metal hip,

like a golf ball cut in half.

It moved around easily

on the fake femur neck,

but the iliofemoral ligament

securing the head of the femur

The healthy hip

was harder to cut into.

As the head of the femur came free,

it made a sucking sound.

We cut off the pelvic floor

and the sitting bones.

The hamstrings’ attachments

were thick and tight.

They went right into the bone.

She had screws in her sacrum

from her trauma.

The synovial fluid in her joints

was sticky like molasses,

but the spinal discs were dry,

and the sacroiliac joint

was bigger than I expected.


We saw the “cauda esquina,”

or “horse’s tail,” where

the spinal cord branches out

to enervate the sacrum.

The sciatic nerve

was the width of my finger

and went from the base

of the spine down the back

of the leg, into the foot.


We took apart her mandible

and temporomandibular joint

connecting her jaw to her skull.

We removed the temporalis muscle

under the zygomatic arch

and the soft palate. We took out

the tongue and voice box,

observing the vocal folds,

the esophagus and windpipe,

the neck muscles.

It was hard to turn her head

to the right. Then we saw why:

a bone spur on the cervical spine,

the size of a dime.


Four of us took turns

with a hacksaw

to get into her skull,

The dura mater came off

with the outer covering.

Exposed, the consistency

of the brain was less firm

than jello, more like mush.

The pituary gland was the size

of my pinky nail, but round.


Teasing out other layers,

I found the optic nerve,

and I saw the black pupil.

The color of her eyes

was indescribable.


I knew her body from the inside

as she could never know it.

I made guesses about her life,

but I could never know her.

After my efforts, I was exhausted,

as if I had taken a long journey.

to the socket was missing.

Diego Gonzalez

Marina Outwater
We All Wear Masks

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