The surgeon jabs me in the gut, twice under the chin.
Gentle boxer, he means to knock me out
with anaesthetic. He means to leave a scar.
I am inhuman to him: a muscular pink cartoon
in the waiting room’s coloring book, cut
on the dotted lines. My body, one whole chicken
in the grocery aisle, pre-marinated in antiseptic.
Down the breastbone slide his forceps and scalpel
like a fork and knife at supper. He sets
the cancerous organs aside like anchovies
in a salad he didn’t order.
When I wake up, he’s scanning my wrinkles
the way one skims the hard-set words
on a stranger’s headstone. He reads them to me,
but the breathing tube down my throat
has eaten my reservations. I swallow hard.
He lifts my hands. Then lays them down
across my ribs like two fish on an oven rack.
By parting the curtains, he parts the veil
between the living and the dead. The curtains
part again; this must be the angel—no,
it’s the insurance agent. Historian of agony,
accountant of Acheron, she wants some identification,
and some answers. Above all, she wants the tokens
I owe the ferryman at the gates of death. When
my relatives place the gold pieces upon my eyes, she
is the one will who cash me out.
by Ryan Dowling