“Dissection” by Alexandra Umlas

Alexandra Umlas


Once on the bus ride to school the girl saw a man
smash another man’s head into the sidewalk.
The city bus kept moving down Atlantic, past
the diner where pies were stacked like beacons,
beyond metal carts bulging with water bottles,
bond businesses, billboards holding out impossible
promises, her backpack full of biology, English,
history, Spanish, math. The bell would ring,
the teachers, pacing linoleum floors, would mark
her papers with ink. The day went on like this,
except for in biology class, where the girl was given
a wrinkled, formaldehyde mink with pink skin, like
a baby but with a tail and two sharp teeth.
Nothing was soft, its insides rubbery, and she
wanted what was soft: oatmeal with cream
for breakfast, the cotton threads of a grey sweatshirt
that matched the morning sky. And they were told
to cut the yellow fat of its body open, but also
to respect the mink, its worm esophagus, threaded
muscles, marble eyes. She took the bus
home at 2:40 p.m., remembering the man framed
in the window, the silent switching back and forth
of skull, sidewalk, skull, the mink wrapped in plastic,
its mouth hanging open, what tools she had laid out
on the scratched table: scalpel, scissors,
hands, what is cut away and what remains. The girl
closed her eyes, pushed herself against the bus’s
exo-skeleton, went over, again, the systems:
respiratory, circulatory, digestive, until she arrived
home, peeled all that death off her shoulders.
The girl ate dinner because what was done
was done. Nothing would bring the mink back,
and the man was okay or he wasn’t.

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019


Alexandra Umlas: “I am drawn to the way a short piece of writing, like a poem, can capture an experience. It’s as if the poet has broken off a piece of life and made it tangible. Life is vast and unruly—it is comforting, for me, to look at it in pieces. Frost called poetry a ‘momentary stay against confusion.’ I am grateful for those ‘momentary stays’ poetry offers me.” (web)

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