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The Medical Venus

ISSUE:  Fall 2008

The so-called Mediceishce Venus is one of a collection of life-size anatomical wax models from the late eighteenth century. Designed and used for teaching, she was created and is still kept at Museo La Specola in Florence.


In the patient, quiet museum, she is exhibited
closed, indehiscent inside a glass casket,

reclining on her back, on hair long as her spine.
Her face is sublime as in the moment

before sleep, or after waking, eyes opening
or just closing, mouth barely parted as though

to draw a breath or speak, fine teeth suggested
behind the lasting red of her lips. A strand

of pearls encircles, defines her nakedness—
a luminescent sheen of shoulders, breasts,

and thighs—such wholeness a molded disremembrance
of what it took to make her, the wax itself

long removed from the hive’s hexagonal prisms,
the cooling fan of temporal wings.


She is the house with a wall that removes
to a methodical inner progression

past seven layers—from pearls to rosy lungs,
to the great vessels that enter and leave

the heart, to the pelvic inlet where the fetus,
too, can be lifted out, serene, instructive.


On their way from sickbed to cemetery,
over two hundred bodies were dissected,

studied for this one rendering—a first
and last communion with sculptor and surgeon

in the bright tension of a shared studio, the curtain
of their flesh parted also in this mute recital.


Both fixed and liquescent, this extreme,
uneasy perfection can never forget

itself the way bronze, granite, marble forget;
this demands greater, almost human care—eager

as it is to reject the suspense of exacting form
and return to the possibilities of motion.


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