Once the woman is asleep, they tape her eyelids
and remove the top of her gown. Her large breasts
fall to the sides of her ribcage, and I’m a little

embarrassed to look there because I don’t even
know her name. Fourteen years old, I’m watching
my surgeon cousin Jim, who snuck me into the O.R.,

because I want to be the next Doogie Howser,
pull this woman’s throat like a puzzle
with a zipper. The lights in this place are almost

unbearable, as are the machines buzzing and beeping
and turning gears to maintain pressure and breath.
I ask, Where’s the epiglottis, where’s the voice box,

and then I start to worry her stitches won’t come out
right. Scars don’t become women, my mother used to say,
and things aren’t looking good for this patient

whose throat has become a honeycomb of broken
vessels while she lies there like a sheet on a clothesline,
only she’s not swaying in some summer breeze,

but falling deeper and deeper into the steel table,
and then I remember my brother once clotheslined me
coming around the north corner of our house,

and I couldn’t talk for a week. The surgeons take turns
removing the gland in sections to check for signs of cancer
and calcium deposits, and I can’t stop thinking about scalpels

and recovery time, and how if she could sing from right here
on this very table, what would I hear with everything
pulled open like a piano full of mallets and wire and sound.


Jeff Simpson was born and raised in southwest Oklahoma. He is the author of Vertical Hold (Steel Toe Books, 2011), which was a finalist for The National Poetry Series. He has also been a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize and the Drake University Emerging Writer Award. He was the founding editor of the online arts and literature magazine, The Fiddleback. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, and works for the Academy of American Poets.

“Thyroidectomy” first appeared in Gulf Stream #28 (2008) and later appeared in Vertical Hold (Steel Toe Books, 2011)

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