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Passed Tense

I wasn’t expecting the morning report.

I wasn’t expecting to see images,

The death, the blood, the open eyes,

the open hands grasping at someone

long gone. Bullets buried deep.

The wounds.

Not at eight in the morning!

Today, they told me, was unusually


Despite the many piercing



defects, we recovered every vicious cartridge.

Bullets bagged, tagged, put away.

Tiny plastic evidence bags contained

shards of a life,

a shattered story.


The body was cold.


I wasn’t expecting the body to be cold,

they looked so alive. How could someone

so peaceful, so pristine,

Be so cold?


Water coursed gently over their faces,

Down their lax hands,

As bits of scene and evidence and crime

Came loose from marred skin.

With every course of cleaning

I expected them to sit up, blink,

Something. Anything.

As if merely by bathing I could

undo such great tragedy.


But the bullet lodged deep in their abdomens, 

her chest, his legs, his cervical spine

all the places I had seen them go —

Made that a definitive non-possibility.


Bloodied, bruised 

Bullet-ridden, broken, battered…

The bodies in the morgue told a devastating story.

It was unexpected — every patient was dead.

Every last one: cold. 

How to cope with such loss, when all I’d learned

Was how to keep alive?

What to do when every case was a cold case?

How to confront such failings of a violent system?

How to compartmentalize when there was no recourse?


But the examiner told me gently,

“We are their last physician. Their last advocate.

We get to tell their final story.”


And there it was — the point.

The point of the bullet embedded

in the man’s skin was only the tip.

There was more to uncover, more to find.

More to tell, more still to care

about, and for.

Image Credit: “the morgue” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by flawijn.pix

Poetry Thursdays is an initiative that highlights poems by medical students. If you are interested in contributing or would like to learn more, please contact our editors.

Emma Emma (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

UT McGovern Medical School

Emma is a medical student at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston, TX, after graduating with a degree in English from Rhodes College. In her free time, she enjoys reading (and re-reading!), finding answers to questions no one asked and bemoaning the state of noise pollution. After graduating medical school, Emma will let you know what kind of physician she'd like to be.