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“Post-Mortem,” by Michael Symmons Roberts

October 18, 2010

Today’s poem takes out the wood brick that propped my shoulder-blades and arched me open.

Everyone who thinks about it probably assumes that poets pay some attention to the lengths of their lines, where and how they break them, and what effects these choices have on their readers.  Well, Roberts has pulled off a, what, a super-line-break near the end of today’s poem.  So super I won’t be convinced it was a coincidence of pagination.

There’s no way to reproduce aloud the shock I felt after reading thirteen stanzas in narrow columns on facing pages, then turning the page to find one italicized stanza alone, and in it the coroner* speaking.  Suddenly.  The first sound in the scene.  With authority and understanding.  To a corpse. And all that white space on the page for her voice to echo through, all that bright space for the body to rise and walk through.

*Actually, what do you call a person in a lab coat who re-assembles–resurrects!–a body?  Not a medical examiner, exactly.  Certainly not a mortician. Or undertaker, embalmer, or funeral director.  Huh.

“Post-Mortem” is in Michael Symmons Roberts’ book, Corpus (Cape Poetry, 2004).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2010 2:56 pm

    I can’t think too hard about this today. It’s my birthday and I feel my aging…
    But it’s a fine day and I now think about cremation. Huh.

  2. October 18, 2010 3:06 pm

    Happy birthday, Laurie!

    Yeah, this is a poem that knows its death through and through, isn’t it? Sorry about that, today. If you made it to the end, though, you know there’s a kiss and a feast, right?

  3. October 19, 2010 2:21 pm


    Sometimes I listen w/ eyes closed and I admit that on first hearing, some of this poem made me “squinch” (squint and flinch) in answer to my visual imagination. I was distracted, but yes, there is a kiss and a feast! “With authority and understanding.” Nice.

    Karsten- You must answer the question for me please!

    • October 19, 2010 9:44 pm

      Which question–the one about what to call a reverse mortician? Will do. Maybe a little bonus post later this week.

  4. October 20, 2010 11:15 am

    Yes. Thanks.


  1. “Food for Risen Bodies,” 6 by Michael Symmons Roberts | Belly up, it's A Poetry Feed.

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