Mathew Brady Arranging the Bodies

By Mary Ruefle b. 1952 Mary Ruefle
On a mountain flat with snow
a blue cloud
paints a last touch of life.
There’s endless harm in trying
a dead body on for size.
The gentleman stands out
in every detail, except color.
He considers his life of a madness
that breaks unexpected
(one boy had a sweetheart
he wore her hair round his finger
it kept it from falling off
with the rest)
or comes also if he composes it
(lift one eye shut, put
rifle butt in the slack jaw
of soldiers decomposing).
He fell in love like a woman
in the folded arms
of a drying sweater:
touched one shoulder
and a whole platoon
was affixed with smiles.
Teeth already loose
falling from their envelopes
thick folded letters
in a dead white mist.

Mary Ruefle, “Mathew Brady Arranging the Bodies” from memlings veil, University of Alabama Press. Copyright © 1982 by Mary Ruefle. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: memling’s veil (The University of Alabama Press, 1982)

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Poet Mary Ruefle b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Death, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

 Mary  Ruefle


Though poet and essayist Mary Ruefle was born outside Pittsburgh, she spent her youth moving around the United States and Europe with her military family.

She has written numerous books of poetry, including Indeed I Was Pleased with the World (2007) and The Adamant (1989), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. A Little White Shadow (2006), her book of erasures—found texts in which all but a few words have been erased from the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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