Gautier D’Agoty’s Ecorchés

Anatomie des parties de la génération, Paris, 1773

What have they done to deserve this beauty?
Did they, like Marsyas, invite some knife-
wielding god with petty transgressions,
the crime of a few tunes on Athena’s lost flute?
Or were they simply too poor for deep
graves, locked gates, and good husbands
to watch over the mounds of new soil
tossed toward them and their hunted unborn?
Whoever they were, they’re still with us,
posing demurely in suits of blood
and muscle, the bruised shadows
of what skin they do have, purpling like
crushed petunias as they spread their legs
and raise their meaty arms to show
dissected breasts, unfinished infants, sundry
viscera on the ground about their feet
as if this were Thanksgiving and they
cornucopias stuffed with squash and fruit.
And who delivered their sentences?
Surely not the muses who, at least,
let them keep rococo faces. In 1773
the womb and the brain were the last outposts
of the body to be mapped. D’Agoty bought
the rights to Le Blon’s technique of printing
mezzotints and gave these ladies homes
in scientific texts, but anatomists believed
D’Agoty’s prints too gorgeous to be accurate.
Perhaps that’s why they open other wounds
so easily in us. All so like the single rabbit
I downed at twenty with a borrowed rifle,
and then was obligated to see skinned,
first scoring the length of the spine,
then peeling the fur in one steaming piece,
while the perverse uncle who clearly desired
to touch me, instead held up a dripping pelt
in one hand, and in the other, a flayed carcass
still wrapped in its bundle of muscle like a gift.

Leslie Adrienne Miller, “Gautier D’Agoty’s Ecorches” from The Resurrection Trade. Copyright © 2007 by Leslie Adrienne Miller. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press,
Source: Resurrection Trade (Graywolf Press, 2007)
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