Anatomy for the Blind

1 March 2017

Beneath the languid nudes of Ingres and Renoir,
the Odalisques and Venus on her couch –
the skeleton is already reclined
against the lectern as the doctor starts:

‘Gentlemen, explore tonight your sense of touch.
Let the warmth of your fingers and palms
caress the cool crest of this ivory planet.

From the summit of this fragile sphere, glide
across the bumps and ridges; understand
the subtle fissures and the secret cracks,

the domed expanse that disappears beneath
itself. Now, press your ear against this blade,
which creaks like a ship on shifting waves:

that’s the sailboat of the scapula
hitched onto the clavicle’s safe cleat.
And here, beneath, as broad as any barrel

the ribs – your maker’s hoops and staves.
This chilly shaft’s the femur, Sir, just like
the cane you’ll use to guide yourself away…’

And when the talk is done, the blind depart
and only the mute skeleton remains,
sole tenant of this vacant gallery
with paintings neither she, nor they, can see.


Notes:
Old black and white photograph of a ‘talk-and-touch’ session for the blind,
about human anatomy, held in an art gallery, 1913.

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