Not for the Squeamish
The Anatomy TheaterNadine Sabra Meyer
(Harper Perennial · paper · $13.95)
This eerie debut volume should become the talk of the town among morticians. Drawing inspiration from the anatomy artists of the 16th century, Nadine Sabra Meyer wanders from dermis to duodenum, meditating on our "soul's chrysalis." If the Romantics were squeamish, Meyer is just the opposite, peering into the thoracic cavity with unflinching curiosity.
''What secret will he withdraw next?" she asks in the title poem, inspired by an ancient anatomy text: "the veined / balloon of her bladder, the umber stalk / of the umbilicus, the fetus's tiny froglike foot?"
From poem to poem, Meyer sketches a series of grim still lifes of cadavers and corpses, her delicate language oddly beautiful. "You can open her like a locket," she writes in "Flap Anatomy," "spring the clasp at her side, spread / her tiny silver hinge." What is the more macabre, these poems ask, our bodies or our fascination with them?
In the book's second and third parts, Meyer writes of her own moments on the operating table. "Driving between doctors I carry my ovary in my purse," she writes in "The Paper House," a poem about a sonogram. "I carry my photographs like a prize, / taking it out at stoplights."
Remarkably, for a poet writing about corpses, Meyer manages to make the body's ephemeral nature anything but a foregone conclusion. "Now, / I know the body's vacant / as a jack-o-lantern," she writes in "Dancing at the Moulin Rouge," "a place for hollow promises, / a clown's baggy suit, / the empty space behind a carnival facade." With images like this, we shouldn't forget either.