The Autopsy of an American Poet

“The Autopsy” by Michael Dickman

There is a way
if we want
into everything

I’ll eat the chicken carbonara and you eat the veal, the olives, the
small and glowing loaves of bread

I’ll eat the waiter, the waitress
floating through the candled dark in shiny black slacks
like water at night

The napkins, folded into paper boats, contain invisible Japanese

You eat the forks,
all the knives, asleep and waiting
on the white tables

What do you love?

I love the way our teeth stay long after we’re gone, hanging on
despite worms or fire

I love our stomachs
turning over
the earth


There is a way
if we want
to stay, to leave


My lungs are made out of smoke ash sunlight air
particles of skin

The invisible floating universe of kisses, rising up in a sequinned
helix of dust and cinnamon

Breathe in

Breathe out

I smoke
unfiltered Shepheard’s Hotel cigarettes
from a green box, with a dog on the cover, I smoke them
here, and I’ll smoke them



There is a way
if we want
out of drowning

I’m having
a Gimlet, a Caruso, a
Fallen Angel

A Manhattan, a Rattlesnake, a Rusty Nail, a Stinger, an Angel
Face, a Corpse Reviver

What are you having?

I’m buying
I’m buying for the house
I’m standing the round

Wake me
from the dash of lemon juice,
the half measure of orange juice, apricot brandy,
and the two fingers of gin
that make up paradise


There is a way
if we want
to untie ourselves

The shining organs that bind us can help us through the new dark

There are lots of stories about intestines

People have been forced to hold them, alive and shocked awake

The doctors removed M’s smaller one and replaced it, the new
bright plastic curled around the older brother

Birds drag them out of the dead and abandoned

Some people climb them into Heaven

Others believe we live in one
God’s intestine!

A conveyor belt of stars and saints

We tie and we loosen

and forgettable

For this post, I wanted to something a little different. Recently, I have been introduced by a friend of mine to two young contemporary American poets: Mathew and Michael Dickman. Though I admit that I enjoy both brothers immensely, I find more intrigue in Michael’s work. I think this is accomplished through the mystery he employs and the utter sense of solitude or silence that his poems give off, even though my work resembles Mathew’s much more. All pleasantries aside, I couldn’t help considering Michael to be Whitmanian in certain senses.

In the poem above, he goes beyond the things that one would find in people’s innards during an autopsy. He explores how the culmination of our life experiences make up who we are, rather than being a simple sum of parts. I greatly prefer this to Juliana Spahr’s very scientific, seemingly empirical analysis of human existence. Michael manages to employ a form of Whitmanian catalog with minute snapshots and detail that are, quite frankly, remarkable in their precision and presence. Moreover, he does this in ways that seem (for some unknown reason) to be distinctly American.

His listing of the food at the dinner table, the way in which folded napkins hide Japanese poems, a Shepheard’s Hotel cigarette, and the ingredients of a drink adding up to “paradise” all feel distinctly American – an honest reflection on what we “consume” in our daily life experiences, if you’ll please forgive my use of the buzz word. Somehow, Michael Dickman manages to assemble a menagerie of images that are, in one way or another, tied to the American experience. Also, he seems to be interested in notions of hope, the eternal, and what could be considered truth. Since I have very little experience with this poet (or indeed any really contemporary poets), I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. Perhaps after further study and reading I’ll know. Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed my indulgence in this post, and if this is your first introduction to the Dickmans, I encourage you to peruse them another time at your leisure!

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2 Responses to The Autopsy of an American Poet

  1. AVZ says:

    Someone needs to read this poem alongside Whitman’s “This Compost.” Any takers?

  2. dana t says:

    I liked this, thanks for sharing. It is interesting in terms of this class because in most of the section shifts I found some element from someone we read this semester, and it kept changing from poet to poet. For some reason “Birds drag them out of the dead and abandoned” struck me pretty strongly as Whitman-ly, because of the add of “abandoned” to “dead”. A good general/specific, it could be out of one of Whitman’s catalogs. In this the poem shows movement compared to how it starts out with the particular chicken carbonara and the olives and veal.

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