- Vol. 02
- Chapter 07
“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.Read more >
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.Read more >
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.
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.
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 unbordered and
unwound as time,
and surrounded like snow.
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…
No genius here…
Just a mass of a mess…
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.
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.)
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.
Read more >
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?
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 >
“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.
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.
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.
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!)"
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
I have none!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
The fights in the dark
Just around that corner
That tune you can’t get out of your mind
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tickled inside of my sleepy head
Rushing to break out
Running from the land
Into the waters
Taking up faces
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
On the other side
To young expression
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.”
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.
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
but pinked at every each-second
diluted flesh losing colour in iced water.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
on the inside.
The bit I use regularly
is neatly ordered;
shelves, cupboards and drawers
all carefully labelled
for ease of reference,
‘Memories’ and so forth.
And the big, sealed, steel cabinet,
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,
trying to keep
Read more >
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.
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.
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
I am impeachable
Have you traced my lines?
The lines you’ve forged
Through your experiences
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
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.
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.
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...'
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.
My Curly Wurly melted.
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
gently, up and under,
the brain with its lobes
of coiling matter, lifts
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
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.
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
To replicate the contours of my face.
It sits rigid against my skin, bolted
To the table, preventing any trace
Of movement. I am suffocating, trapped,
Buried alive, waiting for them to train
Their weapons on the noughts and crosses mapped
Precisely over the parts of my brain
They need to target. I picture the ray
On its trajectory through skin and blood
And skull and dura, skewering each grey
Cell along the way. My own private Scud.
Bull's eye. A direct hit. A perfect score.
My brain's become a casualty of war.
Is that what the falcon sees, slicing the smaller airs above Littondale’s limestone steppes? The dark-moon eye catches a flinch, a shiver between the clints: a fern trembles, droplet falls, a beetle scurries into the grike’s cleft.
We went up there once, fell-booting it up the steep pasture onto a high, grey plateau bright with lapwings’ calls, and hopscotched the sharp clints to the scarp edge. ‘Watch your step,’ Dick said, ‘or you’ll snap an ankle.’
The surface isn’t the thing; it’s the grikes and shakeholes – the slits and knifewound gullies where stone’s old darkness reaches up to claim us for memory. The knapped flint, the hairgrip, the sheep-bone flute, all lost beyond arm’s reach and raptor’s eye. All sucked down to hell, beyond all hope of archaeology.
Children knew it then, chanting, holding their collars against the pavement cracks’ curse: a deep blood-memory of the grikes. But where do those knowings dwell? In the brain’s intestinal folds? Or up with the falcon, mind soaring free of matter?
A cloudbank blew in shadow. We ran the scree down to the gill, and followed it out into the sheep-safe dale.
links, nodes, interchanges make plastics
of spaces and valleys and walls and roads
ridges bathing in sheens of liquid that is
not blood, not that solution for oxygen,
such a leap from desiccated heirlooms
waiting-blind, waiting-deaf, waiting-waiting
bespoke holdall, chemically locked diary
How do you feel detached from a heartbeat?
Not impossible in culinary terms...
Rogan Josh sauce? Wasabi to life the finer flavoured tones?
Lobotomising is nearly passé, and
cannibalism almost archaic.
Brains may desire acts of sacrificial devouring.
Who's to say, once
the occupant's retired from passing electrical
activity throughout it's network?
There's seldom much wiggle-room in suggesting
cannibalism in jest or earnestness.
Culturally, taboos abound.
Frontal lobes are off the menu, pre-theatre, à la carte
Consider a snack comprised of two halves; creative
and logical...could a spoonful of braised brain from
both sides taste differently. Less peppery?
The soul does not inhabit the neurological domain.
A hefty organ by anyone's set of scales.
High maintenance and fond of generous hydration.
An underlain blanket of sesame seed toast,
thin slices of the grey-coral matter.
Arguably, there's intelligent thinking in eating
the hollowed-out content of an disused head.
Redundant craniums should be filling the protein
shortfall fast becoming a global development issue.
Vegetarians and vegans should have no more problem
with this poem than anyone else.
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Not honey like the caramel colours of burnt butter leaves
Falling in the garden around soft bodied worms lit up with the earth’s crumbs
Below the dirty dirt, minor birds pecking at the formality of it all
Cold hues grey and loveless
My horns fuse into the shape of bows, pulling back
Stupid brain with your diminutive thoughts on how things shoulda, coulda, woulda been
Who we seem – and very few have the courage of oxen
On the inside there are objects fluctuating crossways in curvatures over mirrors
Last night there was a sixteen year old transgender boy telling his story –
I saw it on the box
The kingfisher calls
You call my name,
What is it?
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You terrify me, you know. Every time I think I’ve figured you out, I haven’t. Every time I think I’ve held your reins firm enough, I haven’t. You break free and go and what terrifies me is how subtly you do it. How smoothly, how easily, how silently. You amaze me too – how when I let you be, you create and you create so magnificently; how I cannot always figure how you know as much as you do – have I fed it all to you myself or do you feed off me?
In reminiscences, is where I live. In nostalgia, in the past. And each of that, belongs to you, occupying a few crevices each. ‘Can you promise me that you’ll be kind to them?’ is what I’ve asked you at least thirty seven times, and I’ve been met with muteness thirty seven times. So, I go away. I go away and I come back, each part more intact than before and the atrium, a little more congested. I come back wishing that maybe I should not have you the way I do, the way you are.
But if I don’t have you, I won’t have my memories. Where will I live then?