Poetry: C. K. Williams, 'Dissections'

originally published November 2002


Audio: Hear C. K. Williams read "Dissections" (2:48)

Also by C. K. Williams:
Brain (2010)
Two Poems (2005)
The Dress (1999)



Not only have the skin and flesh and parts of the skeleton
of one of the anatomical effigies in the Musée de l'Homme
been excised, stripped away, so that you don't just look at
but through the thing--pink lungs, red kidneys and heart,
tangles of yellowish nerves he seems snarled in, like a net;

not only are his eyes without eyelids, and so shallowly
embedded beneath the blade of the brow, that they seem,
with no shadow to modulate them, flung open in pain or fear;
and not only is his gaze so frenziedly focused that he seems to be
receiving everything, even our regard scraping across him as blare;

not only that, but when I looked more closely, I saw he was real,
that he'd been constructed, reconstructed, on an actual skeleton:
the nerves and organs were wire and plaster, but the armature,
the staring skull, the spine and ribs, were varnished, oxidizing bone;
someone was there, his personhood discernible, a self, a soul.

It was terribly disquieting, all that lonely dolor, that secret grief.
I felt I was intruding, then, I don't know why, it came to me to pray,
though I don't pray, I've unlearned how, to whom, or what,
what fiction, what illusion, or, it wouldn't matter, what true thing,
as mostly I've forgotten how to weep ... Only mostly, though.

Sometimes I can sense the tears in there, and sometimes, yes,
they come, though rarely for a reason I'd have thought--
a cello's voice will catch in mine, a swerve in a poem, and once,
a death, someone I hardly knew, but I found myself sobbing, sobbing,
for everyone I had known who'd died, and some who almost had.

In the next display hall, evolution: half, then quarter creatures,
Australopithecus, Pithecanthropus, Cro-Magnon,
sidle diffidently along their winding uphill path toward us.
Flint and fire, science and song, and all of it coming to this,
this unhealable self in myself who knows what I should know.

C. K. Williams has two new books out this spring: a poetry collection, Wait, and a critical study, On Whitman. His previous collections have received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He teaches at Princeton University.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

Just In