Fowler And Welles’ Phrenological
made regular visits.
loved to touch the white porcelain head,
off in sections: Appetite, Grief,
Like a butcher’s chart
the choicest meats.
knew the body’s limits,
how the mind, a grid
memory and fear, narrows the range
He hated limits,
he loved a good system
wanted to learn this one’s
answers. Why wouldn’t
inside show up on the skin?
bumps of the head,
ones like hiccups,
that span three or four
elongated heads, ones
come to a point. His categories
need new names:
wears an open collar,
takes the shape
a cardboard butterfly perched
his finger. Adhesiveness wants a walk
dark docks, a ferry ride across a river.
Sublimity roars like a leaf.
home in Camden,
I touch his rubber galoshes,
with stacks of paper,
chaos, a fire hazard.
wouldn’t let the hired woman touch it.
claimed an internal logic
Disorder; he loved
good system. In the prison
the street from his house, men line the windows.
on the sidewalk dance, arms above their heads,
pose like Cleopatra, then change.
thought at first: performance art?
realized they were spelling
their bodies, forming the vowels
consonants in the air.
body’s news comes slowly.
knew about longing,
nursed dying Civil War soldiers,
stink of rotting flesh,
pus staining a bandage yellow,
angel face we wear when we’re asleep.
was large in Sympathy.
something of fate
its strange journey through the grey
of Infelicity and Melancholia,
temperaments that form in the womb.
is popping up everywhere.
came to Barbara in a dream
her out of her classroom,
was clean-shaven and vulnerable,
boy, and he taught her
to know about climbing trees.
to Lisa in a vision,
flash of angelic light
bridge; he told her,
yourself to you mystical nature,
not afraid of the part of you
inexplicable and unexplained.
To me he
comes as Gemini,
book to knit together
life, one accord
steps down from my bookshelves.
I am reading
now of Castor and Pollux,
of Leda, twins, although—
of two fathers.
twin is in heaven,
other is on earth. Then they switch.
he is only half a man,
half good enough.
is part of the doubleness.
is Walt’s gift:
striving for wholeness
page. That’s his lesson.
will next appear,
in what form.
Whitman walks through every door:
enters and departs, arrives
the same light
the far shore.
where he steps
a leaf’s wake,
leaf is once more…
O now America, let love, the poor ragpicker,
on his old raiments like new.
right for you is not right for me.
I translate you. I name you. I pity your sleep
in an empty eye, no shelter, no patience, no time.
stay alert, as if our love were swordplay
and I could kill you, if I tried. Instead,
I say and do the things that are too hard for you.
I dance, make you look good,
and then I leave backwards
as if marking a trail
to ease your going.
Your time shortens
more quickly than mine.
Soon you will leave, and I work now
to make that leaving easy.
I'll patch wounds later with the crust of repetition,
but for now it is enough that you do not see me grieve.
of the Year
in good tune.
of the blue bridge,
of several trees
will turn yellow
the weeks go by.
days seem old, too,
by the repetition
season and purpose.
do, don't, will, won't.
on my table, mustard
and red carnations,
leaking into the air.
lake is still,
is not your element,
heaven. He falls, ripples
the water a long time,
to my feet.
quiet. West Philadelphia,
good many years ago. Morning noises, the hail
delivery man to grocer as bread stacked up,
in paper, a few deeper loaves
a little warmth. Just then
sinkhole opened and swallowed the bakery truck,
the driver clung, staring, to the store's
and the grocer's boy cried out,
you see! Oh Lord above us, did you see!"
happen suddenly. No thought.
imagination of what might be if. Nothing.
they happen, like a penance of some kind, visited
the wrong person, the one to whom it never occurred
air might not hold the great steel bird high enough,
whom it makes no sense that the gargoyle should ungrip
knock a loiterer into the grave, to whom chaos is
to fight against as against death itself.
is coarser than I remember, shifts
I least expect it, as if there were tunnels
or sponge. I find my bearings
once I’m in the water, where the sun
shallow waves I'm in up to my knees.
a violet mist across the harbor now,
I can only almost see Manhattan, a shining cube
there, but indistinct, like my thoughts about it:
elusive, half reasoned, missing parts.
a colder world, but just as clear.
sky, but just as capable of blue.
just as cruel, trains just as fast, men just as tall,
just as sweet and dark and tempting as always.
changes is the way we look at each other,
ourselves, draw blame, feed squirrels,
in public, or flinch when the next plane
overhead, remembering inside. What changes
how we elect, every day now, to openly
the arbitrary, or choose to crawl.
Walt Whitman died the
evening of March 26, 1892. The next day, according to
Justin Kaplan in Walt Whitman: A Life, "Thomas Eakins
and a pupil made a death mask. Whitman's literary executors,
Traubel, Bucke, and Harned, took possession of his papers
and packed them into barrels. George Whitman [the poet's
brother] refused to allow the autopsy; the doctors waited
until he left the house that afternoon and then went ahead
with their work, discovering that the immediate cause
of death was pulmonary emphysema; the left lung had collapsed
entirely, and the right was only fractionally functional.
The doctors removed his brain and sent it to be measured
and weighed at the American Anthropometric Society, where
it was destroyed when a laboratory worker accidentally
dropped it on the floor."
is what I started for, so long ago
And why is it yet unfound?
witch hazel and crocus peep
through the basement window at the stiffening brain
fresh from the trepanned skull,
cradled torpid and pensive in the distant, polished oak coffin.
the lab worker's formaldehyded hands,
caress the furrows of good gray matter.
Far away, the carcass trembles as the lab worker muses:
always go just as spring comes in
Walt's brain bucks, slips through the fingers,
winks and twinkles among the glass chards,
softly sighing as his mind sap
flows and ebbs in a childish gawk..
do you do with a dropped brain
lab worker wonders,
but by now,
synapses sputter and crackle like downed telegraph lines;
loafs behind dust balls and life stains;
cerebellum scrounges the yellowed tile for fourth-month grass.
with an electric dreamstorm,
Walt's corpus callosum ruptures in blue fireball,
his cerebrum unlooses the forebrain to foreplay,
and the quivering brain-halves quest for opposing floor crannies,
In the light corner, blabbing syntax, splitting and naming
like a young Adam, the left-brain
scans tenon and mortise for knotty warts.
the dark corner, embracing eidolons,
Walt's sauntering right-brain
mutely carols the lab worker's facial aurora.
Quicklight, the saucy hemispheres
swell with lilac and yawp,
seeding crooned spirals of starlit compost
across the teetering beakers.
my grave with this
the lab worker as he scampers after the sparking brains
sagely, the snowdrops, witch hazel and crocus warble
in the float of the Walt-chant
thrumming against the basement window:
water me earth me water me