The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp
after Rembrandt

On the oak-plank table, the criminal’s body: hanged 
for armed robbery, squat toes dappled 

with burnt sienna, muscled legs leading 
to a stretch of loincloth—interrupting 

the eye for a second—before the slack mouth 
resting on bare chest. No neck. The tip of his nose, 

marble-grey, a bird’s beak peaking from the rust-
colored crop of his beard. His face partially shaded, 

umbra mortis. The skin of his left arm 
stripped away, revealing muscles, tendons—

the physician uses the forceps to pull the meat back, 
to tug the flexor digitorum superficialis: he holds out 

his left hand, fingers poised in mid-air, a magician, 
look, he seems to say, see how it moves. The observers lean in, 

neatly bearded men in black robes, white lace collars 
stiff and ruffled. They hover like specters, 

fascinated by this theater, eyes probing, the human body 
unshrouded. These men painted in a room 

the color of parchment, of brown smoke, 
stone doorways arched, shadowed, sockets in a skull. 
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