You Take the Diaphragm Out and the Body Opens Like a Book by Pamela Hart


            After a conversation overheard at the Bagram Air Base DFAC


But which book: War and Peace
or To The Lighthouse

Mystery, potboiler, post-feminist
historical fiction, books dense with text

or filled with florid sentences flowing
across the dome of muscle and tendon

thinly separating chest from abdomen
Autobiography of respiration inspirational

memoir, philosophies of the western
world that expand and contract

in the marketplace of rib and sternum
Joseph Campbell’s heroes peering

from the thoracic cavity
Emily Dickinson’s feathers

rising and falling as the body falters
Walt Whitman’s boots yawp

at the edge of the esophagus
The body’s pages open to reader

to surgeon to soldier, its chapters
breaking – with each breath

a sounding that bellows up from
lumbar like a white whale

sailing across oceans of lung
Wave after wave of watery

exhalations that scroll
as the diaphragm is lifted

The body’s book written
in phrenic nerves in aorta

Its table of contents set
at first breath and last

Your story my story
marching from page to page



Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art. A 2013 NEA poetry fellow, she is completing a manuscript, Penelope at the Shooting Range. She’s a mentor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Her chapbook from Toadlily Press is The End of the Body. Her poetry has been published in a variety of journals.