DSQ > Summer 2007, Volume 27, No.3

When the great doctor's assistant — Fritz

or Igor, some hunchbacked henchman — beheld

the row of preserved brains afloat in glass,

did he pause to consider the irony

of such delicacy housed by potential harm

before he let drop the jar marked "Genius"?

First the shatter, then the spill, then the plop

rather like a peeled orange dropped and opening

a little, swirl of corpus callosum stretched

between tilted hemispheres. Panic,

then he picked another: not the abnormal

brain of a murderer, frontal lobe dented

with insufficient fissures (as Whale filmed),

but what he read as "Abby Normal,"

a brain atrophied, mottled with grey lesions

visible only when sliced in the autopsy theatre.

Mine was the one jar that did not break,

and I sloshed against its walls with each lurch

of the hunchback's pitching, tilting ramble.

Nobody sliced me; I was too precious

whole, tight bundle of tissue disembodied,

"just resting, waiting for a new life to come,"

said Dr. F. He didn't know how much I'd like

to rest, stay out of bodies for a while.

Alas, now I work this body

as best I can. The monster (how I hate

what they call us, but I suppose it's true)

presented no symptoms at first, capable

of strength to match his proportions,

performing feats of violence when provoked

in his chamber. It was all going so well,

I nearly forgot about our illness. Then

he began dribbling his trouser fronts (too

humiliating for me to acknowledge

personally) and we took a while

to recall the simplest words: "fire" fell

to nothing, then, "f . . ., f . . ., f . . ., fancy? fast?"

Which made Fritz think we liked the torch's dance.

Torture. We did away with him, yes, but

perhaps I just didn't know our own strength.

It took some getting used to, as I had

formerly inhabited the cranium

of a cripple who willed her corpse to science.

Just when things began working smoothly, brain

and body as one, the body began

to cave to the ills I had brought it.

The legs moved less freely. Our feet felt heavy,

as though they wore sixty-pound boots. I hear

that was Karloff's trick to imitate our gait.

That man got it right, a very good likeness,

probably because he more than anyone

comprehended the absolute effort

needed to heave one foot forward, and the next.

Laughing villagers toddled along roadsides,

saying we walked like a duck. Echoes

of the cripple's life. Quacks, taunts. No duck,

but a monster too weak to chase them down.

Torso before feet, we shook only the earth,

tipping into the woods. Left Arm, pale hand

stitched to deep brown wrist, tried to pull a limb

from a tree to use as a walking stick,

but the fingers would not tighten as I

intended. Right Arm assisted, but could not

force it from the trunk. We plucked a flower, limp

hand round the bloom, not the stem. Petals and phlox

sifted through our weakened fingers

to the ground. What else to do but plod on?

We learned to lean into trees for support,

the way a drunk would lean against walls

following a night's consolation. The creatures

in the eaves fled our advance, left us alone

with our sensations, or lack of them.

All along I thought this might happen.

With grief more than horror I've greeted

each fresh apathy in our limbs. I dare

not share this with Dr. F., or my toes.

They'd be so numbly . . . disappointed.

Within me, though, I feel something changing:

not the spread of lesions, more a tremble

in my cortex, as though this broad skull

sutured shut is not enough to contain me.

When we look down to our trailing feet below,

it happens, that theremin playing

our abdomen down to trill in our legs,

and I'm close to bursting. Curse the skies that watch

us buckle, the shock of our birth night's storm

now played out from within, as L'hermitte

discovered and named. I want to say

there is no discovery, only repetition

and return. And the rage that pulses down

this monster body, frail and more fierce than fire.

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Copyright (c) 2007 Laurie Lambeth

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