RJ McCAFFERY

 

Excerpts from the Journal of a Medical Examiner

May 17th

     Get the unwanted, not claimed,
     drunks, vagrants. Open them up,
     not really looking for much. Some paperwork,
     then topple the stiffs from the table
     into stapled plywood boxes.
     Job goes well; salaried, no serious work.
     I should spend more time writing letters to Jenny.

August 8th

     I keep making the same joke at parties, looks
     like everyone died. Still bored. White tile. White tile.
     I clean, spend longer on the bodies. So many.
     Might as well know why.

December 23rd

     Child fell from a tree: death by hypothermia,
     complicated by a compound fracture — zygomatic arch.
     I didn't need to suture:
     wouldn't have leaked through its box,
     but I'm the last to see the compliant body.
     I could do anything to them, no one would know.

February 20th

     I'm a fake, just saying what anyone could say
     Dead, dead, you're dead on my table. I hate them.

March 1st

     Director Sheppard called me into his office today
     not a doctor, not interested in my work
     told me, Buckle down!
     He said, last December, I wrote
     skull through cheek through brain and cold
     on the blonde boy's certificate. He's right.

March 17th

     Grandpa died.
     Sad funeral. Jeff called him a myocardial infarction
     Grandpa's not a heart attack.

March 12th

     Tuesday I got the body of a girl — just dead.
     I write it that way, cause of death — death.

March 35th

     ∞ Ω

April 8th

     Very busy.

May 19th

     Partials, even just a femur, are whole, not lessened.
     Use proper coffins.
     Perhaps draw chalk outlines on bottom?
     They might like that.
     Remember to call Dominic about phosphorescents!
     Inspection threatened!

June 4th

     I have been telling an elaborate series of lies
     to my psychologist, but he helped me anyway:
     the only best way to explain death — a symbol.
     What specific answer doesn't have holes in it?
     I'll never get a live one,
     should throw out all my instruments.

June 6th

     The front-office boy is leaving for college.
     In my charcoal suit, I tell Director Sheppard
     I'll assume all work here, on condition I'm left alone.
     (Forgot to say, starting last April, I no longer draw
     pictures on the death certificates,
     I write Latin epigrams.)
     He has not complained in months.

July 7th

     Finished set of 34 symbols: closed, open, spiral,
     shell, box, and linked chain. With new inks,
     they will last on eyelid and forehead.
     The dead should not go without explanation.

Final entry: no date.

     There is no longer a need to remember.
     I mix oil and ash, anoint and wash the dead.
     As a mark to take with them,
     without envy I cut two hairs from my head,
     tie a feather to each thumb.
     There's no evil in extremes.
     You will come to me, broken and cold,
     and I will lay you out carefully,
     not cut you, but call the dark words,
     asking for you, light, celebratory fire.