Poem of the Week: artful cuts

“Flayed Angel”
Jacques Gautier d’Agoty

If you’ve not yet done so, pop on over to new blog Morbid Anatomy for a tour of some beautiful vintage medical illustrations. My favorite recent post was this collection of links to the work of anatomical artist Jacques Gautier d’Agoty.

Gautier d’Agoty’s “Flayed Angel” is the inspiration for this poem, by Leslie Adrienne Miller, from her new collection, The Resurrection Trade. I am really excited to get this book in the mail. It’s inspired by depictions of anatomy, especially female anatomy – by Gautier d’Agoty, van Rymsdyk, da Vinci, Vesalius. If the following poem is any indication, it’s good stuff.

“The Flayed Angel”
Gautier D’Agoty’s mezzotint of the muscles of the back

Because her back is turned on us
and peeled outward from the ribs,
her namesake wings of skin surprise us
into thinking Fra Angelico—who taught
us all what textures wings might take
in two dimensions, an undulating
series of overlapping lines, a borrowing
from feathers, waves in sand, nothing
like the surface epidermis marked
with random blots or breathing glands
seeking after air any way they can.
If she were photograph or simple lines,
less art or more science, what we’d miss
is the man who had to be there
in the flesh with tray of graving tools
and pair of living eyes, who had
to read her with a knife and scrape
the burr from every rib, who had to know
the permanence of every cut. D’Agoty’s
flaps of flesh are scored with etching’s
textures, places where he meant the acid bath
to eat a weave of shadows into copper plates—
after which the inks pushed out their wells
of dark on water, thighs or fields, anywhere
the light is kept from falling, places
where the eye is urged to go but never see.
So this angel’s wings have corrugations
like boxes, cups, or woven fabric,
a tidiness of purpose that belies the tease
of bundled curls caught above the collar
of her open spine in its red spindles
of gristle. The artist must have thought
the coif a kindness. Perhaps he even knew
that women in the countryside made ready
for a birth with combs and ribbons,
believed first pains meant time for curls.
So were these wings D’Agoty’s kindness too,
his offer of a way she might escape
the grave? Or should we read these artful
cuts as consequence of process,
a simple accident of God.

Hear more poems from The Resurrection Trade via Minnesota Public Radio.

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2 Responses to Poem of the Week: artful cuts

  1. Vanessa says:

    Great find! Will definitely need to purchase this book.

  2. Nicole N says:

    .. old anatomic images are such an inspiration.

    great cabinet of curiosities you’ve got here! n

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