• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 07
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Quick Human Nature

“Man: good, bad, or indifferent?” is the title of the seminar that finishes playwright Tom Stoppard’s marvelous spoof of academic philosophy, Jumpers. There is plenty of evidence for all three alternatives. In one corner there are the saints and doctors and nurses who risk their lives for others; in the other there are the depraved legions of terrorists and criminals, and in between there are the rest of us: not too bad; could do better, as school reports used to say. There are enough variations in human nature for it to be doubtful whether there is any such thing, as opposed to a virtually infinite pool of different combinations of genes and environments, each capable of throwing up its fair share of oddballs and outriders.

Even when things are what we might call normal, we impose interpretations on each other. We are readier to see people in the light of preconceived ideas than we like to think. It was not only bigots who bought into the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” myth, just as it is not only bigots who at some deep, inarticulate level, suppose that the French are charming, Scots miserable, Irish talkative, and so forth. Perhaps it is indeed a constant of human nature that we tend to comfort ourselves with wild generalizations.

Many of our theories of things have few, if any consequences. But the problem with wild theories of human nature is that they do have consequences. We can live up to ideals but we can also live down to them. So theories can become self-verifying. If men think that all real men are angry all the time, they may become that much more angry all the time themselves. Women who believe that the way to a man’s heart is to be charmingly ditzy are perhaps more apt to become ditzy than charming.

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1

An Impulse To Kill

I stand motionless, hovering in my scrubs. So many layers cover my body; pants, shirt, gown, cap, mask, gloves, tied up and fastened, imprisoned into my surgeon's straightjacket for my own protection. Who is this woman lying on the table? I have the power of life and death over her. We've met before, several times, in that ridiculously cheerful room with the brightly painted balloons on the ceiling. Sometimes, when I lean back in my chair, I see those balloons and wish I could prick them with a pin. Prick, prick, prick. So easy, with barely any effort.

That woman now lies inert and I stand above her, scalpel in hand. The crew is silent and eager, almost not breathing, hanging in limbo for their instructions. This is the moment, just before the first slice of soft doughy flesh, when the cheery blood bursts to the surface. It is timeless. I have a desire to prick, prick, prick. So easy, any place in that body that breathes louder than the people hovering around me. A sudden rage surges through me. Lungs, heart, stomach, where first? The liver perhaps, the most vulnerable, where the lightest touch wreaks havoc. Such is the viscera of the human body. And the devil that sleeps beneath rises to the surface, smirking, smiling, willing to sway my mind. I feel his heartbeat, throbbing, thrashing, wanting the thrill of destroying a life. One turn of the knife and then take the plunge. Plunge, plunge, plunge. Easy as diving into a pool of clear, sharp water. His time will come.

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2

Rechem

I love the phrase - to think with your gut.
This image reminds me how much our brain looks like a bundle of innards.
Like the colored pictures in my father’s surgical books which I stole from his library and poured over as a child.
The biblical word for mercy is stomach or womb.
Rechem in Hebrew, reham in Arabic. Compassion is something felt in the guts.
Divine and animal at once.
Top to bottom. Criss-crossing of offal and abstraction.
A double icon.
Image of death – a brain exposed for medical autopsy.
Image of birth – an embryo teeming with embryos.
Naked, coiled, gutted,
uncanny
Like a strange creature – alien and familiar, infantile and senile, natal and mortal. You want to touch, you dare not touch.
Our beginning and our end.

3

The Brain.

Four pounds of worm-like meat-
a world. Each neural journey
inside skull, now jettisoned.

Uncrossing crossed legs
or winning a gamut of races-
the muscle teems with challenges.

Like a prize
from eons of evolution
the trophy is beating extinction.

Shiny, pulsing,
benign presence,
ultimately symbolic
of man's humanity
to man.

4

As Einstein Pedaled

As Einstein pedaled his
bicycle in wide and wider arcs
and laughed among the multitudes
of pi, did he sense what
you and I discovered too,
that there is a great unsaid
and you alone with me walk the wildness
of its storms? Its circumference is garlanded
around your head and granaries
of unborn stars are sifted through the
hands, and my love, I fall.
I fall.
I fall unbordered and
unwound as time,
and surrounded like snow.

5

Gone to Pot

Neuron flash in melted butter –
I’m stuck to the pan
while you’re off solving all the problems
that haunt humanity in this world gone to pot.

Electric buzz in the high atmosphere
as vibrations of consciousness
swarm the airwaves with crackling fat
serving as the acidic conductor toward oblivion.

Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.
This maze from cradle to the grave
appears to be never ending –
A labyrinth of complex data points
that never seem to merge properly toward ascension.

Call in the machines –
Computers promise to do it better –
Accelerate the futurist spring
as cold metal replaces organic thought in a sudden flash.

Mind over matter is so gross…
The innards pouring outward…
Organs spill…
No genius here…
Just a mass of a mess…

6

Einstein’s Brain

(Found poem: from ‘The Tragic Story of how Einstein’s Brain was Stolen, and Wasn’t Even Special’ by Virgina Hughes.)

I left behind specific instructions. I did not want my brain or body studied, worshipped as if I was some sort of god. Told them to cremate my remains, scatter the ashes, discourage idolaters.

The day I died, Princeton Hospital’s on-duty pathologist removed my brain without permission. He took me home, laid me in a bath of celloidin - and as if that was not enough, took the scalpel and carved me into pieces, divided me into two jars and hid me in his Philadelphia basement.

The pathologist’s wife complained. Did not want a brain in her basement, even mine. He moved me, kept me in a cider box under a beer cooler in Wichita Kansas, studied me in his spare time.

Boasted to his neighbour, William Burroughs (some sort of poet), that he could have a slice of Einstein any time he wished.

My Brodmann Area 39 shows a significantly smaller neuron-to glia ratio, apparently. Bad science. The control groups average brain was that of a 47 year old. I died at 76. Bad science. The control’s brains were nice and fresh. Mine had been stuck in jars in Philadelphia basements and Kansas beer coolers.

My Brodmann Area 9 contains thinner tissue, apparently. Bad Science. That’s based on one square millimetre of brain. They inferred from that millimetre that I had more densely packed neurons, so cell-to-cell messages had to travel shorter distances, which might mean faster processing speed.

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7

MANIFESTATIONS OF YOURSELF IN MY HEAD

You are gone, two thousand and seventy three miles away,
leaving behind crumbs of everythingness, the house is a little empty now,
the curtains smell of your soft after shave gel (the one you used on Saturdays because it used to be karaoke night),
memory after memory haunt the house as if you are still here breathing with me.

I can feel the space in my lungs, I take twelve quick deep breaths but it still doesn't fill up; quite like a bottomless well.

I can feel my skin set itself on fire every time that I realise you touched here, there, everywhere.

My eyes only know what bloodshot means, and salt drizzles have become not unusually regularised.

And this heart of mine is a train wreck that is now bleeding uncontrollably; enough to not be revived. Or saved. Or found.

But you, top of the head, master of the working body, head of this biological hierarchy, you, you carry on.

(Sometimes my brain reminds me of you; unaffected, mechanical, and cold. Tick tock tick.)

8

I Love You With All My Brain

A year ago, my uncle almost ran over a child who rushed onto the road to retrieve his football. The motorcycle swerved, and my aunt who was riding pillion, fell off. That isn't what caused the coma. After she got up and dusted herself off, she had a sudden head rush. She fell again, hit her head, and never got up or dusted herself off ever again. It made me think about how it is the fall that one would never expect would kill them, that actually does.

Fall. There are so many ways to understand that word. Off the top of my head: the Original Sin, babies tumbling off beds, autumn, the ground dropping away from beneath a river's feet, fuck y'all, 'Let's fall in love'.

About love. Hm. Now that's a difficult one. When I crawled out of my first fall, I blamed my body for the fact that you never fell as deeply as I did. A body swollen like a helium balloon; the tighter you held on to it, the farther it took you up and away from where I waited, still falling. I never quite fell(t) the same for anyone ever again.

I study in a university now. We are the academia of the future, above all falling, helium bodies, crawling and crying. We have papers to write. Poetry makes us wet. But we still sob when we get too drunk. Students of modernity, there is so much at our disposal! Phone lines, for instance. We send silence across them each night before hanging up for good. Black wires linking heart and heart and heart, a network of veins that carry away bad blood. But Hiroshima took all heart away from the world and now it is just a network of spiderwebs, a kaleidoscope of crushed potential. Dirty blood hanging in dusty wires that tug at a non-existent heart.
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9

Will someone please answer some questions for me about my bicameral brain?

Do they love each other, these two halves?
Is such a union their destiny or do they choose it?
Are they lovers that delight in entwinement or that fit so tight that there’s no longer any room?
Or are they bound together by history, by the fact that they once were a stunning partnership?
Does their difference drive their mutual disgust, or is it something else?
Or were their hemispherical functions once as one, before had to separate, reeling from their toxic effect on each other?
Are they stuck together and cannot get away, destined to share the same apartment on the top floor for all eternity or at least until death?
Why can they only switch the other off and not work together at the same time?
With their left right left right rhythm, was this the birthplace of Alexander, of Darius, of Germanicus and McArthur?
These twins, born in the slime of Nature’s intricate womb, do they understand her staggering purpose?
Mirrored and opposed, how do they see each other?
The globes, these hemispheres, these Weltanschauungen, will they ever work together?
Would they improve lightly fried with a little basil and chilli?
10

Walnuts Sit on Top Of Walnut Whips Don’t They?

'Hazelnuts!'
'Walnuts!'
Ivan glares and does that thing with his teeth: pushing forward his jaw and grinding. It's like a bull pushing back dirt with its hoofs. It's like winding up a toy car - you know the elastic can't wait to let go. Ivan was learning to control his rages, and I knew it. That's why it was more fun. Every Tuesday we get a pound coin from Dad and we head down to Jacky's newsagents, at the top of Queens Rd. In our fists we hold the key to our weekly pleasure, as the bell over the door rings, our hearts for once synchronize to the task - which sweets shall we buy? Our eyes flicker over the assortment. We know all the wrappers intimately. Ivan glances at me, wondering what I will choose, grinding his teeth.

        ***

'You're an idiot. She's seeing Tim down the road,' Ivan shouts at me, I knew that of course but relished Ivan having to raise his voice. What does he think I am? Stupid? Sarah would never fall for a spotty idiot like me: I stutter and my hands shake giving me away. Embarrassing really. Ivan had always had a girlfriend since we were small, well, smallish. At least from age 11. I'm fifteen and have never kissed a girl.

        ***

Ivan looks grand in his suit and Sarah is stunning, just too stunning to behold. You know, it's the first time I've really seen Ivan sweat. Dad and Mum look like mutton dressed as mutton. I'm sure they argued before they came, Dad had that funny red rash on his neck, he only gets that when they argue. Ivan whispers over to me, 'You got the rings?' Read more >

11

It’s not brain surgery

“A piggy bank? Are you sure that’s what this is?”
“Duh. There’s the slot for the coins, right there in the parietal lobe. And if you flip it over...” Nat turned it upside down to reveal the black plastic plug on the bottom. Next to the Made in China sticker.
“Are you trying to tell me something? That I’m not smart with my money? Because I told you I will pay you back.”
“It’s supposed to be a present.”
“I just don’t think it’s very nice of you, to keep bringing it up like this. I told you I can pay you back on payday.”
“Lucy, I know. God. This is not a big deal, okay? It’s a gift. A joke gift.”
Lucy took the china bank and ran her fingers over its lobes. “It’s not really fair to give me a present when you know I can’t reciprocate.”
Nat threw up his hands and started backing out of the break room.
“I have an endonasal endoscopy in twenty minutes. I’ll see you later.”
On his way to the operating room, he handed two theatre tickets to Marie at the nurses’ station. He bet Wilder Penfield never had problems like this.
12

Bas-Relief

Under the knife, all the relationships in his life suddenly lay heavily on him. Though the neurosurgeon’s laser dredged its path towards his entombed tumour, he was no longer trailing its distempering on the monitor. Instead he was poring over the topography of his pinkish gray matter, gilded blood red. The furrows and wrinkles seemed to him composed of contorted homunculi. Bodies folded into impossible angles and compacted against one another like a game of human Tetris. Or one of those mass choreographies beloved by totalitarian dictators. Those consecrated as tribute to the minotaur in him. He tried to exhume the faces in his recollection. His lovers and business partners. Family, friends and the networked. Lovers become haters. Business partners fleeced and rendered decorticated saps. Family who were disowned and covered up like furniture beneath dust sheets. Friends metamorphosed into fiends, while the networked snapped and unsutured once they had become of no further value to him. Picked clean and prostrated. Relationship was about compressing the space between two bodies unto airlessness. Anything within his province, that he could reach out and touch, had to become his. Unless he deemed it as unworthy of owning, when he just crushed it and let it fall. He had devoured everyone in his life. Laid them to rest in the catacombs of his mind, immured without ceremony or memorial. Their heaped husks rising to form the labyrinth of his faithlessness. And here was the surgeon exhuming them, as they unfurled themselves, stretched and meekly followed in the wake of the laser, like a cortege. Unwrapping the intricate convolutions of his bulwark and his redoubt. Maze and Thesean thread both being balled up even as they unravelled him. Their visages veered up to confront him before coiling away to drape themselves on the skein of his tumescence in advance of the surgeon’s laser.
13

Infinite Cortex

You flounced in late in your deliberately mismatched clothes. Neither was accidental it transpired. A necessary part of the performance in which we were all assigned our parts. First up was our birthdays, our month of our arrival a seemingly anodyne cue to agonise over the providence of the stars. Did we believe in astrology? No, take a seat to the left. If we did, we of course would huddle in collective paranoia to the right. Was everyone else taking this stuff seriously was all I could think as I stated calmly that I was Saggitarian, loved camping, team sports and even my birthstone. You became Pavlov's dog at this point nodding until I nearly laughed. After some work on ourselves and some thorough scrutiny and judgement over lunch we reconvened. This was the important bit you said. The breakthrough session that would help us understand if we had been nurtured as children or if we were introverts by nature, and therefore, you know, kinda hard work for pretty much everyone in the group that went left this morning. Over lunch I'd casually asked what it meant that I used my left hand for my knife and right for fork despite being right handed. You smiled so sweetly at me, embracing your theories when I followed up with my confession that I could ONLY carry shoulder bags on my left shoulder. Should I be concerned about this? Call my mother, my gynaecologist, my lawyer? I watched you appraise my efficiently coordinated outfit, the splash of idiosyncrasy chosen and executed perfectly by my stripy tights. I'm an individual who is reliable, creative enough to think for myself but not be trouble. I am safe but can lick at danger. I am left, I am right, I am both. You talked loudly then of sabotage, self and public. The divided self. Read more >
14

Metaphoric

Within your sealed coils
Love Hate Revenge Forgiveness
The innate charm of silence
That slithers between the hidden walls
And carries the desires and secrets
Of the body
And whose fervent limbs
Would be locked in combat
With the landscapes of reality
If not for you, and your alchemical mysteries.
15

Brain Chemistry

In my head there are valleys and ravines and the stuff of my brain is tight packed like the Burren’s chalk pavements.

Is it here that my soul resides in the pink wrinkles?

Is it my brain that generates my dreams? Last night I was kissing a girl again and she was kissing me back with a soft wet tongue before she pulled away.

My brain, the thinking engine, woke me up so I would know there was no girl, so I would not be disappointed.

16

The Brain

Obvious as it is, a physicality of our mind.
Dissected, infected, neglected.
In Cartesian Dualism; Like confused anthropoids with a constant need to define things in avaricious efforts to end chaos.

"Define me! Define me! (Gratify me!)"

Don’t.

You lack empathy.
Don’t feel sorry for me. Understand me.
(Take a minute)
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough voltage in this world to shock you into coherence.
Or do you see it now? That there is no reason or purpose to anything at all. You’ve lost all sense of morality. Conformity; The oppression, the obsession. But continue on your narrow path. As just another element of the roster notation.

17

gentle lady

gentle lady

now gone
leaving her healthy
eighty year old brain
to help the young

help the older

find at least more
good moments days even

and sweeter nights for carers

to add to the safe contentment sometimes found
in
dementia

someone turned her final kindness down

18

Monocoque reuptake inhibitor

Here is your new Formula 1 track she klaxoned,
the longest in the known universe – you did well
in pole, but now the real test begins, once I flash
the red, green and blue cones at you,

and you hare off round my synapse hairpins,
neurotic chicanes and an amygdala curve
that would make you serene if you were
slow enough to stop and marvel at it.

Of course you can’t and won’t, flame-retardant
data daredevil of mine, and though I wish
you were the mystical chaser racer of yore,
I’ll happily fall into being the pit girl stereotype –

if you come back, clutch intact, with a bottle
of champagne overflowing with the truth of me.

19

Brains For Tea

It’s brains for tea again. This new body of mine craves them because they are juicy, succulent, they melt in the mouth like butter used to. But half the time you do want something different. I mean who’d want to eat foie gras their whole life, eh? I remember my first one. It was rich, gave me the trots. I watched others eat theirs – they went in through the face, apparently they’re easier to reach that way – through the mouth and the cavities of the skull. But even I’ll admit that was harsh and the thought of eating the contents of someone’s nose wigged me out. Silly, I know.

They come in different sections, brains. Almost like breaking open an orange. Rumour is eating different parts gives you different strengths – the meaty cerebrum can make you real fast, agile. Chomp down on the occipitals and it helps with your vision. I never buy into that nonsense. I’ve never seen any of us move faster than two miles per hour and even then we’re still walking into stuff. Only yesterday I saw one of us walk into a collapsed tree trunk, sliced himself in half.

I thought I’d try the other parts once. I ate a heart. God, it was bloody messy. It was chewy and all, no meat on it. Livers were slimy, kidneys were a waste of time and the guts were a nightmare. Reminded me of cat’s cradle when I was a boy. I dug through some lungs once but the bloke had obviously been a smoker, filled with black stuff they were. I may not look it but even I have standards.

So in the end, you always go back to the brain. I remember my wife used to cook mince three times a week. Mince, again? We’d row about it – it’s cheap, if I didn’t like I could do the sodding cooking. I’d kill for mince now – just something cooked, hot. One of the wife’s nice shepherd’s pies with lashings of mash. My wife. Where’d she go?

20

It’s a No Brainer !!

A brain without a body, or a body without a brain, which is worse?

A brain without a body can fantasise and imagine it still has a body to function in. Remembering how it was to rule and be in control. The body reacting to his will. Sending out signals to each organ. It would remember how it felt to have a whole body with all it's functions relying totally on him. The power of being so important was immense .

But a body without a brain is even more useless. It can not think, it can not move, it can not remember, it can not imagine- it is dead.

The all powerful, all knowing most important organ of all, the brain, is no longer there. To be relied upon, to be listened to , to await his signals. To live for.

Half a brain would be better than none.

Alas!

I have none!

21

Captive

It's during night time: The ghosts -
they come to haunt where the light does not reach

Tears try in vain to wash away
unwanted memories and things left unsaid

She does not know what it is
about night time and its blue drapes

A hungry child emerges from her chest
as if the inner tides could not lull it to sleep -

a teething heart that aches with growing pains
and unanswered prayers

In the day, she is a young woman
with her head held high

The head: A hollow cage where ghosts gather
holding her heart captive

The heart: A lively puppy wagging her tail at the sun,
licking the face of the day

The brain: It holds on to the hurt
even when the heart is ready to run and play.

22

I’m Where?

I’m here. The brain waved. Not literally, of course. It just thought it, and Clive waved because Clive had the arms to do so.

Across the road a stranger frowned at him.

'Stop it,' Clive said. The brain tried to think of something else. It wasn’t difficult. Clive occupied the head space in his lumbering way but there were plenty of folds for the brain to fill in the gaps.

They both thought they knew who was in control.

A child pointed and said: 'Look! That man’s talking to himself.'

The brain thought about silence, static lips and tongue. Hold back electrical impulses; override that cerebellum, tucked up smug against the stem.

But still Clive muttered – something about answering the voice in his head. It wasn’t unreasonable; although it made no sense to anyone else.

Clive saw how the pedestrians veered from their path, looping around him before hurrying out of the road and stepping back onto the pavement. They looked funny and made him laugh.

A dog barked at him.

Run, thought the brain, who had little sense of humour.

Running triggered a chase response in the terrier. The owner tried to call Rockwell to heal, but the dog clearly had no mind to pay heed.

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23

May 8th 2015

Which part of the brain malfunctions,
when faced with a voting slip.
Does it stop rationally and revert to type.

It whispers sibilantly, stay with what you know. Keep to your side of the track and ignore the warning signs.

Step over those people. Send a clear message. Save for your future.

Snip-snip as the pinking shears emerge from their velvet sheath.

Cut-cut as people squeal when forced to live in an even harsher world.

Because you will inherit the earth and the shares in Food Banks. When they are privatised.

We will reward hard-working people and all that clap-trap.

The Disabled. The Disaffected.

We will look after them. Be assured and that is when your brain turns to mush and you start to believe You are finally brain-washed and hung out to dry. And your X was not a kiss after all.

24

The folds of you

I’ve already made the incision between your ears, and pulled back the skin to expose your skull. Like peeling stuck wax.

Once I’ve sawed through the bone, I’ll remove the folds of you, your memories, your self, and weigh what there is of you that is left.

Your self has the consistency of creased jelly, and when you’re out and in my hands I won’t be able to return you to the place where you were found.

Instead I will stick you into a biodegradable plastic bag, and stow you amongst the mess of your abdominal cavity.

It will be impossible to put you back together as you were.

25

Mama

Mama was dead.

Well, brain dead, at least.

That’s what her doctor said. I wasn’t too fond of him—all harsh angles and dark eyebrows and bulging eyes—but the nurses that checked on her every hour or so would pat my head and smile, so I liked them, I suppose.

Human beings aren’t supposed to move that fast. That’s what crazy, old Mr. Riley told me one day a few weeks after the accident. I was walking home—Pa made me walk, said he wouldn’t dare get in the car, no siree, not when everything in Clinton was well in walking distance—home from school, my hands shoved in my front pockets, kicking a pine cone down the sidewalk, when Riley stopped me for a chat.

You can imagine my surprise. Mr. Riley never spoke to anyone. I’d hardly ever seen him, too, save for the few times he came to church—Christmas and Easter—and that one time Chris and me wondered what would happen if we set off bottle rockets in Mr. Riley’s front yard. In fact, until that very day, the only words I’d heard him speak were, “Get off my fuckin’ lawn!”

“What’d you say to me, you crazy old man?” I’d hollered at him.

“Our bodies aren’t made to go that fast. Drivin’,” he’d said. He’d flicked his cigarette at me. I’d taken a step back. “Won’t be surprised if she never wakes up. No I will not.”

Not too sure if I really said anything to him after that. My eyes started burning something awful, and the next thing I remember, I was at home, tears running hot and fast down my face. I’d been crying a lot those days.

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26

Glistening rope

A knot of wet, twisted rope,
soaked in oil and left
to chill and lie
to drip into the table
solid and yet fragile
its glistening skin looks firm
you're desperate to touch it but afraid
of how slimy, cold and dead it will feel
of how you will feel
touching something
that was once in a head
it was the thinking part of you
that now drives your desire to feel how dead it is
how those meandering folds fit and shape
how it all sits together
how could that possibly control
a most marvelous and complex machine
that now looks at its companion stripped back
bare to its basest form, preserved
solid, flaccid, cold, gruesome,
a too shiny sponge
you yearn to cut into it
follow those paths
the bends in its folds
to try and see how it ticks
you step back, hands shaking, swallow
take a long, slow breath
and lift the knife
27

The Brain’s ‘To Do’ List

Busy, busy, busy - always -
even if I look like just so many noodles in oil -
love and hate,
sadness and joy;
I generate explosions of energy -
the huge and the minute,
the spiritual and the philistine;
play snakes and ladders
or advanced games of chess -
the simple and the complex,
the creative and the scientific -
not mutually exclusive;
send unceasing mobile messages -
the extraordinary and the prosaic;
active or at rest,
although I’m all but inert to the naked eye.

You could say I’m a paradox:
still, I’m the most vital
structure in existence.
Order and chaos -
order from chaos -
the stuff of life, you might say.

28

The Brain Ghazal

Crack open the head, where do you find the brains?
These days, the best minds run around various trains.

You just take a nutcracker and break open a walnut,
What you get are droplets, not the torrential rains.

Look at the cortex and the cerebrospinal fluid,
You look around; it’s all going down the drains.

How enticing, suspended in air, the brain looks,
But there is no power, no water, and no grains.

Mused Roomy, they stopped making Faraday now,
What flows now is just mere blood in the veins.

29

Synapses Point

In between the bend and flow
Where our memory hides from us in the end
We linger in sparks and dusty recollection
Pressed into the pages of the bible in the nightstand
Remember the folded pound note, dollar and euro are there
Forget
The fights in the dark
Just around that corner
Just there
That tune you can’t get out of your mind
Her song
His
30

After death

I am donating my body to medical science.
Trainee surgeons will dissect me -
stomach, fingers, legs, arms.
My skin will be prised apart
to expose garish yellow layers of fat
and chalk-white bones.
Organs will be labelled.
A careful and detailed
dissection to aid a student's
understanding of the anatomical arrangement.

My brain should yield valuable
information about blood supply
and the consequences of its interruption.
Students will scrutinise the cortex,
hippocampus and ventricles.
They will know my brain inside out,
but they won't see the poems
that were waiting to be written.

31

Materials

Bricks and mortar.
Leaves and water.
Paint and china.
Ink and fibre.

Give me your hand, my dear, and I will trace its veins,
Imagining the blood that travels through your whole;
Voyaging around your heart, your lungs and your brain...

More than sounds in tree-tops. More than fire from coal.

32

Logy

A muted blank night accompanies the porch. A male lizard crawls in circles, dragging a mating call towards a female lurking in behind light switches and wall creepers. Then they danced around the ceiling gaslamp; thoroughly indulging in the stillness of night. Add 'eating flies' and 'defecating on walls' into the scene and the lizard’s life purpose is showcased in a single night. The starless sky only meant one thing: night clouds are patrolling my town. I should probably pull in my semi-dry laundry from outside. Maybe after one cigarette.

There is a live telecast of tennis on the sports channel. UK’s pride in tennis, Murray, having the slight edge over New Balance posterboy Raonic with one game. The match is far from over. Both men display heaves of resilience and grit, back and forth the by-line. Murray, as if exemplifying my point, is wearing an impressive scruffy mustache and soul patch. It has been a grueling twenty-nine minutes of tennis. The sound of drizzle softly shifted my attention to the outside. I dragged my laundry stand in. Safe from the rain, the laundry smells like blooming flowers in spring.

After battling an eighteen hour migraine with my own brain, my whole body feels light. I can’t even feel my legs sometimes, let alone my toes. I was logy from all the vomiting and hair pulling. It was a nightmare and I don’t deserve to undergo such excruciating pain. What have I done to deserve such unimaginable pain? The aftermath is mental. I can safely say that a migraine of such magnitude is capable of warping my sense of reality. And it did. I’ve never felt more zoned out than I am right now. Walking to the kitchen feels like floating into space. My toes are detached from me. I can see them wriggle but I can’t sense their tug. I’m pretty damn sure, coupled with my seizures, these are early signs for brain tumor.

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33

We Humans

Do you see this brain, Jimmy?

Jimmy looked at his uncle, not knowing how to respond.

Do you notice how complex it is? All twists and turns, not one straight line. No wonder we humans are who we are.

Jimmy dashed out of the basement and never went down there again.

34

Operating system

As it comes naked,
dripping formalin from a jar,
we think we know it,
hefted in a professional’s
competent latexed hands.

We have seen enough
of those gritty police
procedurals, the new
home forensics, to think
we hear a slight liquid suck
as it is placed on the scale,
sliding on stainless steel
like a beached sea animal.

But we do not, perhaps,
truly believe we have one
just like it, that it performs us,
that a soft labyrinth of signals
is the safe-keeper of our self.

So we try to think of it differently,
say it looks like a piece of sculpture
lying on a slab, a fresh walnut,
or a clean white cauliflower,
all of which seem safer than
this puzzle of slippery cords,
lifted clear from its hull of bone
stripped of its frail integument.

35

Fancy and Imagination

The tiny feet of fancy folks
Tickled inside of my sleepy head
Rushing to break out
Hurrying creation
Running from the land
Into the waters
Changing forms
Taking up faces
Trampling mates
Many stuck in swamp
Of thick uncertainty
Many made it to waters
And voyage began
Majority sank in a wink
The sea expanded

Some could still swim
Though tired and grim
Few fresh as ever
Fighting the depths
Of diffusing ocean
Riding the waves
Of ever-growing passion
And at last
Became imagination
Making ashore
On the other side
To young expression

36

The central processing unit is a myth

Over this curve, toward the cerebellum, electrical with pinkicity,
frightening and firing, is Artemis – proud and bright and
free, and winning a fight over my father,
over a city, over a nation-state.
And the owl and the pussycat and the shield and the moon –
all are right in their righteousness.
Before the medulla oblongata fires, the body, the soul, the mind,
is becalmed in a vat in Valhalla, unable to do much but swim in meady
goodness, bubble and bumble and trouble and fumble;
and somehow get home without the aid of a Valkryrie’s wings.
And sometimes the right half is Jarilo, and the left Morana,
warring and warming and freezing and loving, logical winter,
creative spring, and new life poking through
the frost, purple-green buds punching properly
because it’s the cycle of life, man. Love and loss and
Cerebral cortexes. Just when I think I’ve got it sorted,
Anansi, sliding down the optic tectum, and I trip,
sprawling into space, arms spread, captured.

Joseph Campbell – “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”

37

SUPPER

Einstein's brain would probably have looked quite boring
on a butcher's counter. It being described
as a darker shade of grey. Not that it matters,
all the rest being a lighter shade of pale. Or pink.

It had wide lobes with enough material
to keep the next generation thinking a long time.
I asked Doctor Thomas whether it would stay fresh.
Was informed that with that kind of mental activity
it had probably never died. Although it did stink.

I often thought about brains as a child,
especially as they had them on Saturday night
after the pub, if the chip shop had run out of pig's feet.
I'd never heard of science until I went to the movies
and saw Frankenstein. He had no brain.

38

Intuit

The intuit is a log cabin dweller
in warm climes. Unlike his frost brother.
Uncabinned, in moonlight,
he stabs up fish he sees slick up
silvering the downwards river.
Not to eat, just to know
the pulverised insides
the would-be-red
but pinked at every each-second
diluted flesh losing colour in iced water.
39

Scrunched

If you pulled it out and ironed it flat, well first you'd be dead, but also amazed at how much can fit in that bony cave...

like a sleeping bag, walked for miles in its pouch over muddy hills and cropped fields, where the sun drizzles your face, and the sheep blat, and the crows scream, 'til you huddle down flat under the stars and the stretching dome above...

or when you were seven and a half, and you bolted yourself in the loo just to see how far the toilet paper stretched, and you unravelled it around your feet until you got scared and gathered it up and put it all in the bath, so the bath looked like the sky from an aeroplane, and you imagined tiny people beneath the clouds, fizzing through cities like electrons, working the land and maybe, just maybe, unravelling toilet paper in a loo somewhere to see how far it really stretched...

and you think of the thousands and thousands of thoughts moving through the spongey tubes, like light, or the shadows that play on the roof of your tent, which you feel you can almost tell what they are but you still can't grasp at what they mean...

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40

Friends with Benefits

She wasn’t meant to be anyone’s playboy bunny-girl or manhandled pet.
He wasn’t any dirty rat; just good at winning games.
A player that was never caught out,
Pure bred stud.
Disease free; clinically clean.
They always use bacterial gel, disposable gloves and sterile needles.
Gauze face mask applied.
Ready for action; perfectly shaven - pink skin held taught.
Albino eyes – no blinking.
Blood shot. Can’t breath.
The tie – too tight now.
Measurements taken.
Pulses race and machines bleep.
“Animals were used to ensure the safety of this product”.
Diodes in place, scalpel raised.
Vivisection is a no-brainer.

41

My Pineal Body

My head is in a book
my brain is busy
shuffling, sorting, storing words
to be considered by my soul.

My head is on a train
my brain, acting clever, letting me in on a
lover's phone call while I savour a cheese roll
basking in his after shave.

Tucked in a deep dark groove
sits my soul
who made me a woman and is right now
planning a night for me in his arms.

42

Glue

i.
Figurines
bowed down in submission,
asking, begging, seeking.

Shake the dust
from off your prayer mat.

ii.
Peek inside
every weeping crevice
that holds a curled secret,

siting there,
waiting to be coddled.

iii.
From your years
spent ploughing the furrows,
form the neuroglia,

the stickum
and spit of memories.

iv.
The baby
with chin tucked to the knee
hears everything you say;

whisper now
all your sacred knowledge.

43

The Fruits Of The Sea

Dear Aunt Dorothea,
       I have just returned from visiting Benoit’s family in Les Landes. Easter lunch, south of Bordeaux. Men return from the market. Arms filled with bulging blue plastic bags. What is inside? Things wriggle. A sweet iodine perfume. A long wooden table, bordered with ten chairs. Glasses. Flowers. Fruits de mer. The fruits of the sea. Bags unpacked. Seafood boiled alive. Simmered to death. A massacre in steam. Table dressed with tools, assembled, lined up like soldiers. One-by-one. Attention. Immaculate. Like a surgeon’s implements. Like a surgeon’s instruments. Apparatus for the feast. Things for cutting, grasping, retractors and distractors. Hinged crackers. A mallet. Metals spikes like hatpins. Chink of china. Sit, sit. Tuck a napkin under a chin. A plateau, a tower, an architectural construction. A showstopper built into a nest of glistening emerald seaweed. Terracotta crabs. Amaranth pink lobsters. French fuchsia prawns. Ivory scallops. Licorice black snails. Winkles. Splash of white wine. Bon appétit. Chère famille. Nodding heads. The fracture of shells. Split, break, stab. A sip of sauvignon. Oui, merci. Scraping tiny morsels of flesh. Non, merci. A dip of oily mayonnaise. Baguette. Dismembered. Muscles. Sucking claws. Juice drips from my father-in-laws mouth. C’est bon. Crack. Que c’est bon. An oysters slips down my mother-in-law’s throat. Echalotte swim in a pool of cider vinegar. A gulp of sauvignon. A chew. A swallow. A gulp. A scrape. A dip. Mastication and swallow again. A swipe. A glance. A chuckle. A dip. A crack. A drink. A trickle on the table. Flesh on wood. Wine splattered. Conversation sprinkles. A break. A splotch. A speck. A gobble. A munch. A sigh. Enough. A wipe. Two hours later it is done. Undone. The table a wreck. The stomach full. The bottles empty. The tower deconstructed.

       Bisous and kisses from me and baby Sophia,
       Clementine.

44

Brain

Touch it, I said.

Absolutely not, she said.

If you do I'll tell my brother you think he's cute.

Milly looked at me. Why would I want him to know that?

I shrugged, turned away from her, prodded the thing with my pen. It's not like I haven't noticed.

I don't like your brother, she said. She was looking at me, not the thing, not where my pen left blue marks between its stiff valleys, sticking to it like it was trying to remember how to be.

From across the room Lucy squealed. Oh my god, it's moving!

Miss Lee walked over to the squeals. Lucy and Sara and Niamh were rubbing their hands on their coats and jumping up and down on the spot. It's so gross, Miss!

It's dead, Lucy. It's not moving.

I looked at Milly and we rolled our eyes and tried not to let out a snort. We were bending over the brain closely, our backs against the classroom and everyone else, staring at the thing and waiting for the other to do it, to slice it open clean through the middle, like letting steam rise out of a pie.

I don't fancy your brother, she said after a while.

I know. I don't care if you do. I'm just saying, I live with him. He's not that great. He doesn't wear socks.

I felt her move beside me and saw her smile. That's kinda funny, she said.

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45

And This is Where We Find Ourselves Today

You hand it to me and I say, where should I put it and you say, it doesn't matter, look, it bounces, look! And it does, that front part - you say cortex, I'm not sure - is very flexible, although bits do fall off when we get up on chairs and drop it from a height and then higher still. After a while we are fed up and you find some tupperware, too small really, we have to squeeze it in, but you say it won't mind, you say it's not used that much these days, and we rub the chips we have instead, which are still a little sore even though it's been quite a while since they were inserted. I nod at you, you nod at me, you put the container in the cupboard, and we go looking for some biscuits, to have with tea, of course.
46

The boy’s first drink

He was a young boy who was in a coma. Had been out with his friends drinking and leaned out of the car to throw up. Leaned out on the wrong side while the car was moving, and was hit by an oncoming car. For two weeks he hovered and no one expected him to make it. One morning he woke up, and just like that, he was able to say some simple words. The next day, I was feeding the boy ice cream. One of my patients in the ICU. The brain is pretty amazing.
47

Getting my head around it

It doesn’t look like this
on the inside.
The bit I use regularly
is neatly ordered;
shelves, cupboards and drawers
all carefully labelled
for ease of reference,
‘Skills’, ‘Techniques’
‘Knowledge’, ‘Poems’
‘Memories’ and so forth.
And the big, sealed, steel cabinet,
which houses
my autonomic nervous system,
hums gently in the corner.

Out back’s a different story. It goes on, seemingly, forever; I’ve never attempted to find the edge in case I fall over.

I think it’s all cupboards
(apart from the caves
where the nightmares lurk);
some bear remnants of labels,
but the keys are lost,
others are locked,
and bolted,
and barred…
trying to keep
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48

Quiet In The Jar

The part that no one sees. Finally, without you to claim it, was mine.

When you were dead I found a way to keep it. The essence of you. Plucking your brain from your skull like extracting a cracked walnut, washing it down with chemicals, placing it in the formaldehyde with the love and care of a diamond merchant. I would own this jewel forever, while the rest was condemned to ash.

Still vivid with secrets, still poised with promise, still loaded with every signal, every nervous memory you’d ever deemed important. You were a perfect specimen. I placed you in the jar in the fridge, removing you sometimes to hold you up to the window on days when rain and sunshine arrived together, with the possibility of rainbows. You always liked days like those.

Your body let me down. It changed. Skin ripening and falling from the bone in papery sheets, speckled with age spots. Hair fading until colourless and pale, your breasts diminished into leathery sacks, teeth ever longer as your gums withdrew, fine muscular legs transformed to bone, immobile on the chair. But your mind, your beautiful misunderstood mind, was always loyal to me. Wasn’t it?

I always wanted to see inside you. Discover what lay beyond the pretty dark curls that covered your head. Find out where you went when I was cruel. When I made you feel uncomfortable. Find out the real feelings you had about our neighbours, your ex husband, our son, what you really thought about me. Whether you really loved me? Find out how you really felt, about what happened on that winter’s day, when you saw me kissing that young girl in the woods. Or the time I set fire to your books.
Or the nights I threatened to kill you.

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49

Waiting for You

A monster lurks in the shadows. It waits, patient as ever. You tense, flex, sense something is amiss. Scratch your head. Flip your hair. An earwig? A spider? No. That would be too simple, too easy to fix.
Your vision slides, turning your world darker. Strange shadows flicker where once they never existed. A filmy haze spills over your hands. You try to wipe it away, scratching your hands raw. The sludge never fades.
The itch is back. Echoes follow. They beat time against your ear drums, the thump thump forever pulsing, parading through your mind. Pains stab your forehead, overwhelming. Invisible blood drips down your pale, drawn face. The spinal cord is liquefying. Leaks increase, a constant trickle. Your brain sinks into oblivion, the tumour leading the way.
50

Authority

Keep me safe
Keep me triumphant
Keep me pure
All the things you aspire to be

Feed upon my light and my silent gaze
Experience but never graze
Merely a container to exercise my will
Why resist?

I am impeachable
Have you traced my lines?
The lines you’ve forged
Through your experiences
Your lies
Your hurt
Trace them
Trace them until your fingers grow numb

Many creases have I
Unencumbered by your vision
I will not bow to your wishes
You will bow to mine
Feed upon my vulnerability
That you too may become real

Slide upon my hills
For they are filled with turmoil
Inviting not to the child in you, but to the future you
Who will beg for wisdom

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51

Such a sexy mine mind girl

"You have such a sexy brain. Such a sexy mind girl! Mine.”

He used to tell her this daily, as she passed him on her way to the bathroom or slowly on her way to the kitchen. “Mmm girl. Your mind is hot.”

He loved to own her every thought.

“Mind your own head” she would smirk in reply.

The two of them like two lobes of the same brain. Such a perfect fit. She taking care of the left hemisphere of life and he of the right. This was before things just fell apart. The dementia of their life. What a stroke of bad luck. For them to forget all about the hot perfection of their state of mind.
But such a fleeting thought now.

Yes, and now?

Now she was gone. An after thought. Though night quite ... right.

Somehow she was always on his mind. She was in fact in his mind. At times it felt like he had no mind at all without her. None of his own. He was out of it. And it was out of him. Clueless. Numb. Dumb. None.

So there she was, resting, within the folds of him. Can you see her? Sexy mind girl. Yes.

And what a mind this gave him.

Quite the turn on. And off. Utter confusion.

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52

We can be bought and sold…

Dear Aunt Dorothea,

        Whilst I was in Les Landes, South of Bordeaux, I met Benoit’s cousin, Antoine, a neurologist. We talked brain. He showed me a photograph he keeps in his wallet; it looked like a pile of flesh. He talked about the muscle, the need for brain exercise, the fibers, the reptilian, the limbic, the cortex and the synapses. “Neurons carry messages, translate everything we perceive,” he said “feelings are packed in tiny labeled bags, these missals scuttle from the skin through the central nervous system and up to the brain; the brain.” Antoine believes the brain is the center of the Universe, bigger than the stars, the sun and the moon, usurping the Galaxy. All is understandable through the mesmerizing scanner that measures blood flow, oxygen status, creates an image, mapping the brain, cross sectioning and recording the territory. Antoine thinks that infrared light, magnetic fields, gamma rays and the topography of shadows can picture love, hate, jealousy and revenge.

       I prefer poetry, Dorothea; alone, the brain is mere meat, brawn and flesh. Where is the heart, the soul? Where is culture, the complex, unfathomable singular, unique movement of language, paint, music and words? Why do do not hit the man, crush the butterfly; why do we want to eat donuts or cronuts from dawn till dusk? It is culture that leads us to pour green tea from a certain height and makes us want to believe in ephemeral flower fairies, our football players, or a superhero in tight-fitting lycra who will sweep from the bleak, navy blue midnight sky and save us from our own deep shadows.

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53

MANY HEADS BUT NO BRAINS

My old Dad used to say that Brian was like a lean streak of bacon. These days it seems a virtue to be skinny. Anyway, back to Brian. He was teased constantly at school, because of his geeky looks and quick intelligence. The Brain was his nickname. Teachers used him constantly as cross-reference against their own unsure techniques, whilst being almost certain that he would point out their inaccuracies, quietly. Which gave them the get-out clause that they were only 'testing us'. When the rest of the testosterone-filled sixth-form lads were dating, Brian would smile vaguely, his mind apparently on higher things.
Those schooldays were over 30 years ago and I had forgotten most of my educational input. It had been swamped by years of adult life, love and low-paid jobs.
The few mates that I still managed to be pals with were also busy paying their mortgages and college fees for offspring. We did meet up occasionally for drinks, toasting each other and feeling self-righteous if our paunches were smaller than our last visit.
Someone said 'I wonder what happened to old Brian?
We fell silent, maybe having misgivings of the treatment we had dealt him. Then Colin blurted 'My niece lives in the States and is recovering from a tumour in her brain. it was touch and go whether she would recover. Thank God she pulled through. The surgeon who performed the operation was Sir Brian Clifton. He moved from the UK some 10 years ago. I checked the details on the website.'
He paused and ended, 'It was the same Brian, the one we mocked...'
54

ELEVENSEAS IN TOOTRING

The birds beaking at my window pane are doing no good to the tigers in my brain where the big cats are pacing round because the door bell is going to ring and it will be the fish-man again.
I try to keep him at bay but he snarls and pushes past me - have you any idea how far I have come, I have come from KENT this morning ... and he scratches the hall mirror.
I tangle with him and bungle him out the door ..
“Don’t you want no fish then mate?”
“Don’t you want no fish, no meat, no fish?”
His words is ringing in my brain like an uncompleted in-call.
I close the door and looking back up the hall, I see the mirror and there is blood everywhere but the pain but the pain but the pain hasn’t arrived yet. And the tigers are smelling blood.

Sean

55

My Brain

This to me is not rocket science
My Curly Wurly melted.
56

Private Cloud

My head's in the clouds, thoughts come and go. My brain's a storage unit, down a winding dirt road. Wires humming overhead, crows on the wires, red-tailed hawks in the fields by the trailer park.

Stored in the clouds, memories flash, lightning in the storm. A tornado of the brain, it's an EF-4, roaring down the interstate followed by the storm chasers getting footage on their phones.

In the debris cloud is the Pythagorean theorem, property descriptions, sonnets of Shakespeare, sunlight on water, a swirling plaid skirt, a spotted dog, a kiss in the summer grass. Here comes the gray cat again, followed by the first time I saw you in that faded jean jacket, the formula for photosynthesis, E=mc2

57

CO-OPERATION

The surgeon goes in
gently, up and under,
shouldering aside
the brain with its lobes
of coiling matter, lifts
and separates
its memories, dreams,
our futures, the past,
sets aside love,
twinned as it is,

like the heart
with its chambers or ventricles,
its valves, that co-operate
in brinkmanship,
and hangs on
moment by moment, to life;
your brain like a walnut,
your brain like my heart
that could, any moment,
break in half.

58

The Donation

This was your last donation
Your last act of giving
Although you never gave anything
To me in life
I was a lost cause
No need for your charity
You said
Now there you sit
Smug, on display
A grey mass, pickled
Ironic as you never drank
Saying alcohol kills
As I drank away
The love between us
This was scavenged
From the ravages of you
The control centre
Of you, your emotions
Senses, soul?
A dead and empty thing
A mass of nothing
No response
No reaction
You were just the same
When you were alive

59