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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language, and poetry at the City College of New York. He is now writing a dissertation on the sonnets of E. A. Robinson at LMU, where he tutors composition alongside editing flyers on poetry and style. His poems and translations have appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured, and a senior copyeditor at Review of International American Studies. He also teaches at M√ľnchner Volkshochschule and leads the Amerikahaus Literaturkreis.

20170213

Walt Whitman's Brain Dropped on Laboratory Floor

by Thomas Lux

At his request, after death, his brain removed
for science, phrenology, to study, and,
as the mortuary assistant carried it
(I suppose in a jar but I hope cupped
in his hands) across the lab’s stone floor he dropped it.
You could ask a forensic pathologist
what that might look like. He willed his brain,
as I said, for study—its bumps and grooves,
analysed, allowing a deeper grasp
of human nature, potential (so phrenology believed)
and this kind of intense look, as opposed to mere fingering
of the skull’s outer ridges, valleys, would afford
particular insight. So Walt believed.
He had already scored high (between 6 and 7) for Ego.
And as if we couldn’t guess from his verses, he scored
high again (a 6 and a 7—7 the highest possible!) in Amativeness
(sexual love) and Adhesiveness (friendship,
brotherly love) when before his death
his head was read. He earned only 5 for Poetic Faculties
but that 5, pulled and pushed by his other numbers,
allowed our father of poesie to lay down some words
in the proper order on the page. That our nation
does not care does not matter, much.
That his modest federal job was taken from him,
and thus his pension, does not matter at all.
And that his brain was dropped and shattered, a cosmos,
on the floor, matters even less.

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