Visiting the Cadaver Lab Two Weeks before College Decision Day by Brittney Corrigan

We are seated around a table talking about concussions.
The professor describes the role of engineering: a bicyclist


throws his helmet away after a single crash, but a football
player uses the same one again and again. What if we


could design a better helmet, shift the impact, tell when
a blow has caused harm? And then, he offers to take


my son and me to his cadaver lab upstairs. Of course
we go. Inside, his students open two stainless steel hoods,


drape a small square of cloth over each face. They show us
how they have dissected a spinal cord—removed it entire—


still attached to the brain one holds in her hands, then passes
to my son. It took most of a year to separate from its body,


and we lean in to see the cauda equina, how the nerves
at the end resemble a horse’s tail. The professor tells us


these bodies are near the end of their journey: their skin dry,
toes brown and curling, detached organs lifted neatly out.


Soon they will be made ash, return to their families, having
given all they could to these young minds. And now


my son must choose how he will leave us, where
he will go. Will it be here, with this professor, these new


scientists, two fresh bodies underneath the hoods? We wait
for him to tell us. For the moment when the cord is cut.

Brittney Corrigan is the author of the poetry collections Daughters, Breaking, Navigation, 40 Weeks and most recently, Solastalgia, a collection of poems about climate change, extinction, and the Anthropocene Age (JackLeg Press, 2023). Brittney was raised in Colorado and has lived in Portland, Oregon for the past three decades, where she is an alumna and employee of Reed College. She is currently at work on her first short story collection. For more information, visit