Progress Notes

The age of portrait is drugged. Beauty
is symmetry so rare it’s a mystery.
My left eye is smaller than my right,
my big mouth shows my nice teeth perfectly
aligned like Muslims in prayer.
My lips an accordion. Each sneeze
a facial thumbprint. One corner
of my mouth hangs downward when I want
to hold a guffaw hostage. Bell’s palsy perhaps
or what Mark Twain said about steamboat piloting,
that a doctor’s unable to look upon the blush
in a young beauty’s face without thinking
it could be a fever, a malar rash,
a butterfly announcing a wolf. Can I lie
facedown now as cadavers posed
on first anatomy lesson? I didn’t know mine
was a woman until three weeks later
we turned her over. Out of reverence
there was to be no untimely exposure of donors,
our patrons who were covered in patches
of scrubs-green dish towels,
and by semester’s end we were sick of all that,
tossed mega livers and mammoth hearts
into lab air and caught them. My body
was Margaret. That’s what the death certificate said
when it was released before finals. The cause
of her death? Nothing memorable,
frail old age. But the colonel on table nineteen
with an accessory spleen had put a bullet through
his temple, a final prayer. Not in entry or exit
were there skull cracks to condemn the house
of death, no shattered glass in the brain,
only a smooth tunnel of deep violet that bloomed
in concentric circles. The weekends were lonely.
He had the most beautiful muscles
of all 32 bodies that were neatly arranged,
zipped up as if a mass grave had been disinterred.
Or when unzipped and facing the ceiling
had cloth over their eyes as if they’d just been executed.
Gray silver hair, chiseled countenance,
he was sixty-seven, a veteran of more than one war.
I had come across that which will end me, ex­-
tend me, at least once, without knowing it.

Fady Joudah, "Progress Notes" from Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance.  Copyright © 2018 by Fady Joudah.  Reprinted by permission of Milkweed Editions.
More Poems by Fady Joudah