Howard Richard Debs

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Body Parts

I just heard the news,
on All Things ConsideredArtwork by Gene McCormick
so it must be true.

The New York City Medical
Examiner’s Office is still,
twelve years after the attacks,
telephoning family members
of victims of the 9/11 tragedy
and informing them that
an upper arm, a leg, a tooth,
has been finally identified
as belonging to their relative,
who died that infamous day.

One mother gets such a notice.
She has buried a son, or those bits of
his remains found in the wreckage.
Now some other physical part
has been positively confirmed through
DNA sampling, or other scientific methods,
modern means unavailable, 
for example after Auschwitz, to allow loved ones
access to the pieces of a person.

So what do you say when such
a call comes your way?
Hello, oh thank you, just send it to the cemetery.
There the remains will be exhumed,
the casket opened, placing the upper arm,
the leg, the tooth, inside then to be returned
to the earth. A new burial, a relived agony.
The report says some prefer not to know.
They can request to be noted on a list labeled
“do not call” and the parts in question are removed
to the 9/11 Memorial, to a special holding place
so that in a time to come, if the loved one should
change their mind, they can inquire:
is my brother there, anywhere, any part of him?
The report states, 22,000 individual remains
were recovered. 14,000 individual body parts
belonging to 1,634 people have been identified . . .
to date.


Howard Richard Debs received a University of Colorado Poetry Prize at age 19. After devoting the past fifty years to a career in advertising and marketing communications, with recognitions including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Educational Press Association of America, he has recently resumed his literary pursuits, and his latest work appears or is forthcoming in The Germ, Calliope, Big River Poetry Review, Jewish Currents, and Poetica Magazine. He lives in sunny South Florida with his wife of 48 years, where they spend considerable time spoiling their 4 grandchildren.