gorgeous guys don’t go about in massive jars—
a thought the Anatomy Museum refutes.
from the entrance they’re floating, exquisitely
preserved, sprawling, suspended, their beauty strewn,
& youthfulness, youthfulness above all else,
though boiled clean, pickled in lime, their features
still vivid through the heavy glass. it’s enough
to turn around: there, models after models,
bundles of nerves, ribs removed from teenaged boys,
and cerebrums like meteors. deeper in:
those broken hearts, eyes wide open with surprise,
Eustachian tubas still playing jazz, the moth
of a healthy thyroid pierced by a long pin.
further, the meandering veins, in which one or two
years of war convulsed, full lungs that arrested
breath during his sixteenth spring. A slender stomach
where butterflies remained, and masculine muscles
attached to threads. he goes deeper and deeper
in formaldehyde as he weighs whether to
give himself to science, stay forever young,
pulsing, thronging, thinking. he sees himself
on those threads, measures the jars for fit.
then asks Ada, the curator,
if any orange jars are free and maybe
a display case facing the Planty Gardens?
It’s like a concept for a film, which opens with a wide-angle shot that narrows like a pupil, pausing to take in the macabre exhibits at the Anatomy Museum in Kraków. There’s a whiff of must in the air, and from the windows and skulls a chill. Two young men enter the frame. One of them, the narrator and guide, is in good health, anticipating a rosy future. The other, passive in this scene, is growing weaker, without a future, his illness robbing him of months, days, hours. Their visit to the museum, however random, becomes an occasion for weighing whether to donate one’s body to science, and in that way to not die completely, to not disintegrate absolutely, to not lose that transient youthfulness. To become an exhibit in a jar and display case, but looking out on Kraków’s Planty Gardens – a place that connotes life and presents an alternative to the idea propagated by religion of returning to dust. And, in that manner, to rebel against death itself.
Translated from the Polish by Karen Kovacik
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