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Well this is incredibly cool and a totally unexpected. I found during my trawling a site (From the Fishouse) that has a few audio files from Michael Dickman, one of which is him reading “My Autopsy,” the poem that appears in the December 15, 2008, issue of the New Yorker. The Fishouse version is slightly different–a bit longer in places, particularly the second and third sections of his poem. It also appears the Fishouse version was recorded and posted in 2005.

Does the New Yorker know this? Does an audio recording count as prior publication? Did the NewYorker give credit to From the Fishouse (or at least ask for permission)? Which publication will get the credit in Dickman’s first book, forthcoming in 2009 from Copper Canyon Press?

I’m glad Dickman is finding a larger audience for his work but I wonder how many poets have poems in multiple non-anthology  publications–meaning two publications that can claim first publication rights. It used to be (not so long ago) that journals would send back your rejected sheets of poetry and you’d silp them into a new envelope and send them off again. But with the uptick of journals accepting simultaneous submissions, it can get hairy in a hurry; poets forget where they sent their material and forget (or don’t tell) the editors of other journals that a poem they want was already snapped up. (Fortunately I have an efficient and orderly system to keep track of all my rejections.)

Dickman is a young poet and this is his third poem appearing in the New Yorker this calendar year. His twin brother, Matthew, had one published several months ago. The Dickman twins of Oregon are barnstorming the poetry scene!

We often don’t get a chance to see the poet’s revisions. I remember seeing somewhere William Stafford’s popular poem in an earlier draft and the change that particular poem underwent was remarkable. Dickman’s earlier version holds a similar allure; he cut a lot of good stuff but I think it made the poem stronger. Probably the biggest change of all was axeing the word ‘it’ from the end of the second line that introduces each section.

Usually I’m against the republication of poems, but I thought it would be instructive to print the 2005 version. (Dickman is playful  with line length so I’m approximateing where I think the line would break as best as I can. Which is another way of saying I have no idea.)

My Autopsy (2005)

There is a way
if we want it
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 intolike paper boats, contain invisible Japanese poems

You eat the forks,
all the knives, asleep and waitingdazzling
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 it
to stay, to leave


I have taken so much into My lungs it’s no wonder I was built for this are made out of
smokes and ashes, sunlight and air
and once
coughing it up onto the sand in little fistfuls,
water, salt, particles of skin

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

In the other world there will be no black glass
no silicosis, blood

Breathe in

Breathe out

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



There is a way
if we want it
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

My liver and your liver stretched and blown up like balloons or ancient drum covers
could run the length of this room 
from the neon flashing like the Christmas tree
to the wood panel jukebox 

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 a paradise


There is a way
if we want it
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 hand over fist

Others believe we live in one
God’s intestine!

A conveyor belt of stars and saints

We burn, we tie and untiewe loosen

and forgettable

This version was originally published in From the Fishouse.

Further Reading

Dickman on line length from From the Fishouse.

Muldoon obviously likes Dickman and says as much.

A poem in Narrative.


The Author

D.S. Loney is a poet and writer living in Washington, D.C.


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