Visiting the Cadaver Lab with My High School Seniors

This is frickin’ awesome
says the ginger-haired boy,
as he slides the ropy sciatic nerve
between purple-gloved fingers
(Etta James is singing Roll with Me Henry somewhere in the lab)
              and in a few years, he rolls into improv
              and mimics politicians’ tics and foibles

She looks like my dead grandmother
says the girl, consumed with shame at not being brave, who hides
in the back between jars of preserved gallstones and fetuses,
the girl who’d convert to Catholicism and become an ob-gyn
              after she called me, crying about her grades in O-chem,
              and did I think she could still get in?

Love is the only religion worth anything
announces the kid holding the wan and heavy heart,
the pacemaker still attached,
Removing the heart is an art, I said
              to this boy, who wrote unfathomable equations on the board
              for fun, and later, with his roommate would design
              heartless back-flipping robots

The smell makes me want to puke, but I really want to touch it
says the kid who deftly probes the puckered brain’s infoldings,
who’d dissect any roadkill I’d bring to class
              who came out to his thin-lipped dad
              and told me his mom would love him, anyway,
              and who would leave orthodoxy
              behind to study dragonfly speciation and sex

This makes you think how you want to spend the rest of your life
whispers the girl who seldom smiled, gazing past
eyeless holes as she examines the orbicularis oris,
who once brought me yellow-green parrot feather earrings
from Brazil, and later,
              racing solar-powered cars
              on the Australian flats,
              blazed out
              in a flame of glory.


Mother Longing: Duplex Poem

Ripping open the seams of space-time
Is perfected by the blackdragon fish cloaked in dark gabardine

              The universe is stitched together in black gabardine
              With black holes for pockets and comets for threads

The weft of black spiders weaves through warp threads
And black birds of paradise line nest edges with stars

              Those sequins you fixed to my black costume for stars
              Transformed me into a blackdragon fish in the depths of the sea

But, I want to be a mermaid, I cried, and dance with the crabs in the sea
Why something so ordinary, you asked, pins in your mouth,

              That dark badass fish is hidden ‘til it opens its mouth
              Anyone can be a mermaid, just pull on a fake tail

The black fish ambushes prey with lighted antennae and a flick of its tail
Be giddy and girly if this is what you choose

              But know I will still love you if some day you choose:
              Ripping open the seams of space-time.


Louhi Pohjola was born in Montreal, Canada, to Finnish immigrant parents. She was a research scientist for many years before teaching both sciences and humanities in a small high school in southern Oregon. She is an avid fly-fisherwoman and lover of the natural world. For these reasons, her poems are often focused on the intersections of science, art, and nature. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and her terrier.