The First X-Ray

Wilhem Roentgen aimed radiation at objects,
each holding photons like a dam holds flood.
What spilled over was cast on film, a portrait

of what was lost: a metal sheet, a set of weights,
his wife’s hand—silhouette of her wedding ring.
The history of innovation cycles, a stone wheel

that hones a knife’s edge. Biotech is built small
for warzones, to trace poison in water. Mustard gas
fathered chemo: autopsies of blistered victims

showed tumors lulled into slumber. Wildfires
clear stagnant fields clean—eventually you
hardly remember the earth’s scarred flesh. Still,

I remember cadavers and my reluctant scalpel

baring down onto bone. I remember someone
said, They wanted you to learn, as if permission

could supplant the image of skin peeled out
like an onion. Roentgen saw this muddled
future; he called them X-rays, x for unknown,

but he predicted deformed fingers, twisted bowels,
and hid behind lead. Even his wife, mother

of lobar pneumonia, of excised bullets and clots,

knew her role in this play. At her naked
knuckles, she cried, I have seen my death,
but not once did she pull her hand away.


Eric Tran received his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and is a second year medical student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is a Primary Care and Population Health Scholar. His work appears in Indiana Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Collagist, Redivider, and elsewhere. He is the author of Affairs with Men in Suits (Backbone Press). For more, visit