Think of it as geography,
a map of the human soul.
Phrenologist head-charts place
‘destructiveness’ just behind the ear,
‘veneration’ on the crown,
‘memory’ on the forehead.
The brain divided into zones,
like Cold War Berlin,
full of checkpoints, spies,
The skull is measured by calliper
You can run your thumb along the skull
reading the indentations and protrusions,
raised relief and in the Victorian pages of Punch,
and the dissertations of Fellows of the Royal Society
find their map keys:
the corresponding shape of the cranium
to the stratas of Jew, Base Criminal,
African, Irish, Cro-magnon –
indexes of nigresence
these ‘undesirable simians’,
these ‘anthropoid apes’
will never know culture, literature, civilisation.
They will never be able
to read poetry let alone write it.
The bones tell them so.
Think of it as archaelogy, excavation,
Herophilos, father of anatomy, studied
the workings of the brain, the nervous system,
the optic and arterial systems by taking
the bodies of living
prisoners to pieces,
Dr Walter Jackson Freeman II inspects his instruments
craniotome, leucotome, orbitoclast,
amazed at his own ingenuity.
When the tranquilizers have taken effect,
he makes his first incision.
Through Dura Mater, Arachnoid Mater, Pia Mater,
the membranes that envelop the brain.
The strangest names he always thinks
force of habit and education
tough mother, spider mother, tender mother.
She does not flinch.
The brain has no pain receptors.
She is 23, oldest daughter
of the Kennedys, wayward
and disappointing in her parents’ eyes,
‘feeble-minded’ in the Harvard medical report.
As his assistant continues his work,
removing cerebral tissue with scalpel
and disposing of it,
Freeman monitors the progress
by talking to the patient.
“Rosemary, can you hear me?
Good, now can you kindly
count backwards from 20 for me.
Recite Our Father.
Sing God Bless America.
They extract memories of society gatherings,
“20, 19, 18, 17…”
of sailing round the Cape and the blast of sea air,
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea…”
of meeting the President,
“in earth as it is in heaven”
of claustrophobia, of walking the streets alone until dawn
search parties tracking her,
“Stand beside her, and guide her”
of fashion and youth and “through the
night with a light from above” watching the adults lost
in drinking songs,
slapping her mother’s face, blazing rows,
and looking after her brothers “forgive
us our trespasses” and her sisters “deliver
us” and finding her diary read
For a few seconds, a few centimentres,
before she will be irreparably brain damaged,
she feels everything finally makes sense
and she is filled with rapturous awe,
she knows the meaning of grace.
“We made an estimate on how far to cut
based on how she responded.”
Only when she began to drool
and became incapable of speech
did they cease.
They hid her away in a convent in Wisconsin
mute, incontinent, in a near-vegetative state,
knowing nothing of what ripples outwards,
of what will happen to her family,
outliving almost all of them,
unaware of the words Zapruder or Sirhan or Chappaquiddick.
The family do not visit or mention her.
Her name is taboo.
Whoever was Rosemary is gone.
The light gone out in her eyes.
But they were wrong,
she spent those decades of silence
working on her unfinished masterpiece,
her life’s work
trying to complete what
the doctor had asked her in her head,
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