The Embalmer Speaks, by Kelly Weber

I go to the basement to prepare the body

unsheathe the mother’s old acanthus-print dress,
separate the arm from the ribs

and plug one stent into the neck,
other in the forearm, to drain the blood—

until the skin’s so thin it’s translucent
enough to see blue and red rivers.

Then I fetch the tank of embalming fluid
and fill the body back up with color

because the family needs to see her
as they knew her last: red lips over cocktails.

Afterwards, I make the small slit
just below the navel to aspirate

the organs stacked like stones in the body,
flood the cavities between.

Here was the heart, ventricles open/shut
like the luminescent eyes of undersea beasts.

I trim the hair, paint the face no longer
tuned to the circadian rhythms we all tap

our way along, heedless of how we are beautiful,
we are beautiful, we are beautiful.

Bend this body’s ball mounts, joints,
arranging bones under a skein of gray skin,

wash and smooth it like raising a jar
on a spinning pottery wheel,

drape it with chiffon and pearls,
pull underwear back over sex, heavy breasts.

I paint the nails last, pink—these hands
held the secret to swing songs, love-kissing in the dark.

When it is perfect, I turn it over
to the parlor workers who will carry it

upstairs, to display before people
among glazed pews and sprays of flowers.

The body will endure this long, at least,
before dissolving under weight of dirt and casket—

because this, this flesh, is just the heavy part
cast off like a whale on a beach.

And like the whale, it will break
bit by bit: heart, kidneys, lungs

until there is nothing left but fine-combed jaws
and a round eyehole to peer through—

because this whale, this person
is long gone, jettisoned for something more to move on.

When it’s all done, I turn to the next body,
push open the double doors

to the deeps of the darks that hover
over the void of the basement floor

where I begin again.



Kelly Weber’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several publications, including The Midwest Quarterly, The Bone Parade, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Clade Song, Gravel, and two upcoming anthologies. Her chapbook All My Valentine’s Days Are Weird was recently published by Pseudo Poseur Press. She has taught composition and poetry at Wayne State College, where she received her BA of English Writing and Literature and her MSE in English Education. She is currently working toward her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University. More of her work can be found at

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