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'Artist at Work' by Harriet Torr

Leonardo da Vinci, The foetus, c.1511, RCIN 919101 (detail) ©

A draught sends the candlelight
down the galley of corpses
where a man sits sketching,
gagged against the stench.

The room is still,
the walls are silent,
listening to the scratch of pen
the rub of pencil shading the flesh.

An army of microbes guts
against the seams of the skull,
the eye bone’s flotilla of shadow
winking at the tallow’s light.

Later, in his own rooms
he highlights in the names:
Ramus, Sphenoid, Meatus.
And if that moment comes,

that sudden revelation
that the body is more than
the sum of its parts,
who can say.

Back in the other place
the dead nerves lie
like trapped light
in an opaque vase.