Down Time at the Forensic Reconstructor’s

Wire thin as coarse hair bridging
his close-gloved hands, he flenses
skin and striated muscle from bone,
careful, delicate as a potter
strips his thrown and molded
pot from the stopped wheel.
A Finnish boning knife made just for this
lazes near spoon bellies in the cutlery drawer,
but for once he wants the pristine
wire, daily tempted by the vault
of his palm, to taste real flesh.
He presses it to curve against
dead squirrel, lets it slip between
haunch and femur, pry shoulder
from scapula. Hollow spines
of scallion lay piled to one side
with garlic cloves and snow pea pods
ready for the stir-fry.
He thinks Where’s the good in being
an everyday god, manning the brainpan
section of the assembly line,
grubby hands sculpting
in the workshop while the skulls
keep rolling never-ending in?
Forensic sketchers have it easy
merely drawing what they’re told—
no interpretation expected, little art.
Near daily his strong thumbs stroke,
smooth, build cheeks onto waiting
architecture, imprint him there.
This isn’t who he thought he’d be.
Even of those few identified, he later learns
from relatives and old photos some had hazel eyes,
not blue, or cleftless chins, or pockmarked skin,
and childhoods, lovers, faults and joys
and pain he couldn’t quite imagine right
or coax the clay to show. Families
rarely thank him for proof of death.
He goes on to mold the next.
He tosses the carcass, skeleton smaller
than a human skull, head-first in the garbage,
arranges the pared meat to pan-sizzle
and cleans the tool, rinses away
blood and fat under the tap, rubs
wire to shine with a turpentine rag.
Come morning, it returns to the studio,
to lopping off imperfect noses,
shaving twin pinnae, painlessly
improving John Doe’s jawline.
Now at least it knows, he feels,
clay is not the body’s natural
matter. And the artist?
First, the meal, then tomorrow
back to creating fake fascia, rendering
faces of the anonymous dead
according to bone structure, hinge
and brow and intuition. He isn’t sure
which art he prefers, which takes
the greater skill, what he was born to do,
what next he’ll put his wire to.

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