“The Transparencies” by Glenn J. Freeman

Glenn J. Freeman


In the Encyclopedia Britannica I used as a kid,
the body was built in layers of transparency,
a skeletal foundation you could overlap
with, one by one, the circulatory system,
the muscles, the organs, the flesh—
or, likewise, you could peel away from the whole
and leave only bone, two full spreads, of course,
one for each sex. Hours I spent
with the glossy images, lifting up or laying down
as if there in the shiny representations of bone & flesh
I might find where it starts.
A simple Google search for anatomy or human
body and a million images now appear, labels
and diagrams and 3-D graphics and moving parts—
and then there’s the plastinated bodies, corpses
frozen in their simple routines without flesh,
muscles and veins engaging with the everyday.
Sure, it’s easy to proclaim the miracle of the human
body, or even the faith or belief
that emerges from somewhere deep within it,
but something different altogether to imagine
the layers of history folded like those transparencies
into each self—but that’s too forceful
a metaphor I didn’t even intend, one I didn’t own
even as I set out to remember
what haunted me as a child, that fragment
of a memory now a keepsake, a phantom
somewhere beyond the peeling away, some empty
space beneath the final page, beneath the hollow
of bones where I’d gladly return for one touch
of that initial mystery, even if it meant pulling away
that sheet so that nothing remained, all gone down
like history into the dust and loam.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009


Glenn J. Freeman: “I grew up being taught that a poem was some kind of a puzzle, a riddle that a teacher had an answer to and could determine whether I was ‘right’ or not. I grew up, then, not really liking poetry. But then at a particularly confusing point in my life, a friend gave me Theodore Roethke’s The Lost Son. Reading Roethke, I realized that here was a man as confused about things as I was; not some theoretical puzzle, but an individual speaking out of his pain, grief, and confusion. Here was a man taking pain and singing as best he could. From then on, I could hear the real voices in poetry and I began to listen.”

Rattle Logo