Fear of Gray’s Anatomy (Brendan Galvin)

I will not look in it again.
There the heart in section is a gas mask,
its windows gone, its hoses severed.
The spinal cord is a zipper
& the lower digestive tract
has been squeezed from a tube like toothpaste.
All my life I had hoped someday to own
at least myself, only to find I am
Flood’s ligaments, the areola of Mamma,
& the zonule of Zinn, Ruffini’s endings
end in me, & the band of Gennari lies near
the island of Reil. Though I am a geography
greater than even I surmised, containing as I do
spaces & systems, promontories & at least
one reservoir, pits, tunnels, crescents,
demilunes & a daughter star, how can I celebrate
my incomplete fissures, my hippocampus &
inferior mental processes, my depressions
& internal extremities? I encompass also
ploughshare & gladiolus, iris & wing,
& the bird’s nest of my cerebellum,
yet wherever I go I bear the crypts of Lieberkuhn,
& among the possible malfunctionaries,
floating ribs & wandering cells, Pott’s fracture,
mottles, abductors, lachrymal bones & aberrant ducts.
I will ask my wife to knit a jacket for this book,
& pretend it’s a brick doorstop.
I will not open Gray’s Anatomy again.

Discussion Questions:

1) Galvin explores the language used to describe and parse apart the body with an air of fascination but begins (with his title) and ends his poem with the idea of fear or, at the very least, discomfort. Did you find the exploration of the human body in minute detail to be fascinating? Unsettling? Both? How did the particular language/terminology employed (be it archaic, associative, obscure) affect this experience?

2) Galvin’s word choices draw our attention to the understanding of the body as a series of (perhaps disconnected) parts as well as absences (ex. my incomplete fissures). How does this particular (linguistically informed) gaze change how the human body is conceived of and understood? How is training this gaze (seeing the body as a series of parts) important to the practice of medicine? Could it also be problematic?


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