Their Bodies

By David Wagoner b. 1926 David Wagoner

To the students of anatomy
at Indiana University

That gaunt old man came first, his hair as white
As your scoured tables. Maybe you’ll recollect him
By the scars of steelmill burns on the backs of his hands,
On the nape of his neck, on his arms and sinewy legs,
And her by the enduring innocence
Of her face, as open to all of you in death
As it would have been in life: she would memorize
Your names and ages and pastimes and hometowns
If she could, but she can’t now, so remember her.

They believed in doctors, listened to their advice,
And followed it faithfully. You should treat them
One last time as they would have treated you.
They had been kind to others all their lives
And believed in being useful. Remember somewhere
Their son is trying hard to believe you’ll learn
As much as possible from them, as he did,
And will do your best to learn politely and truly.

They gave away the gift of those useful bodies
Against his wish. (They had their own ways
Of doing everything, always.) If you’re not certain
Which ones are theirs, be gentle to everybody.

David Wagoner, "Their Bodies" from First Light (Boston:  Little, Brown, 1983).  Copyright © 1983 by David Wagoner.  Used with the permission of the author.



Source: Poetry (October 1982).

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This poem originally appeared in the October 1982 issue of Poetry magazine

October 1982
 David  Wagoner

Biography

David Wagoner is recognized as the leading poet of the Pacific Northwest, often compared to his early mentor Theodore Roethke, and highly praised for his skillful, insightful and serious body of work. He has won numerous prestigious literary awards including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and the Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and has twice been nominated for the National Book Award. The author of ten . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Sciences, Arts & Sciences, Nature, Death, The Body

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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