The opening sentence of this poem is a direct quote from an anatomy lecture during first year medical school. The entire class of 160 was hunched over their papers scribbling maniacally the entire lecture.  As usual,  I wasn’t taking notes but was instead  listening intently when I  was struck by the beauty of this description of a rib. I looked around the room to see if anyone else had noticed the that high art had entered into an anatomy lecture. As I scanned the room, he lecturer locked eyes with me. He shrugged his shoulders as we stared at each other. He then slowly bent his knees until he  disappeared behind the lectern. No one else in the room noticed.


“Ribs are long, and thin,

and curved, and slightly twisted.”

Attached at the spine and arching out

to each side, these bones reach

the mid-axillary line; then bending

inward to grasp the sternum, a cage is formed,

enclosing the thorax and holding within,

by a solid hug of ribs, the vital organs:

The Heart and Lungs,

The Phrenic, and the Vagus.

To Autopsy is to self inspect; to self reflect.

Dissected free from fascia, picked clean

from flesh, the rib mirrors the eye.

It has a simple beauty, an archaic truth,

revealed by the careful touch and the proper gaze

of Galen or Vesalius, who while holding this lone

bone torn from chest and bringing it to light

cries out, “Why this bone is long and thin

and curved, and somewhat twisted.”

A single rib, alone, separated

from the body, has a history; it connects

to other times, other spines;

evoking the carcass of each man

now dead and recalling the birth

of Eve. This is the bone into woman

transformed: long and thin,

and curved, and lithely twisted.

After midnight when I cannot sleep

and my thoughts dissolve and blur

along the uncertain edge

of my darkened room, I murmur

to myself, ribs are long, and

thin, and curved, and

sightly twisted.


About Køt Biehl

I am a psychiatrist in private practice with 25 years experience in multiple settings including long-term inpatient, acute inpatient, partial hospitalization, outpatient, hospital consultation, long term psychodynamic psychotherapy, brief psychotherapy, and even electroconvulsive therapy. I am board certified in general psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine. My interests are many. I bore easily. I am fascinated by shamanic healing, particle physics, quantum theory, Schubert, Brahms, Schoenberg, Jung, Reik, Pynchon, Proust, Mark Strand, John Berryman, Richard Feinman, Wharhol, Pollock, Kandinsky, Miro, audiophile stereo reproduction, rocks on the beach, and small shiny objects.
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