The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, founded in 1787,
is the oldest professional medical organization in the country.
Walking the stone steps, you trip the way you have in sleep, a jolt
that wakes you up. Are these the steps you have been dreaming
and falling up all your life? You turn around to look
for the car that brought you, your husband’s face
warm behind the windshield wipers, but he is gone.
You’ve been left at the door.
They’re hawking postcards of this inferno
or is it heaven’s lobby, selling calendars
of eternity, above the dates, full color photos of things behind
the doors ahead? It’s a zoo of anomaly, an aquarium that won’t hold anything
back. You walk through breath’s tunnel, looking
under the skin, not just of a body but beauty, base and lively, the conditions
that twist and scrape what’s human into art. You’ve heard
that some are more interested in the process than the finished piece.
You’ve seen this when your child draws, when he smears paint
over his body like a second skin. And here
are smears and lumps of pigment floating
in specimen jars, extra ears, piled sores, gangrene, the Siamese twin
of birth and wonder. Your breath measures, measures, and you are
suddenly aware of it. Aware of yourself standing
in this crowd. There are children here. They are laughing. And it is
funny, all this variation, all this decrescendo, crash, lift
again, the jars glowing from their display cases, not like jewels but the nerve
of jewels, the projection and meaning they take on
during a funeral. You stand at the grave. There is a flash
in your eye, syncope, desire to fall in a fit at the incongruity.
One dresses for funerals. But you’re not dressed for this.
Your pen won’t write and you keep shaking
the ink down toward the tip, as if that would help. But this isn’t anyone’s
funeral, this is not grief’s moment
but its expansion, when life and death
and much laughing roll up into one headless body,
roll up into a baby you’ve been staring at like an angel
fish in a tank, gilled, an infant without
form, just a fetching mass of skin, whorled,
with only one perfect foot to edge it from dream.
A Case of Inner Ears
The internal ear is the essential part of the organ of
hearing, receiving the ultimate distribution of the
auditory nerve. It is called the labyrinth, from the
complexity of its shape…
— Gray’s Anatomy
In a glass box,
hearing’s pivot and swivel,
a case of
labyrinths. Row upon row
of slight, white depths
throb and hum.
In the first row
: a silver spoon stirring sugar
into the ear’s cup,
spoon of conduction,
coiled and eager, prenatal divining
rod quivering with dark, underwater
bloodbeats, muffled uterine voice start of loud out
to fluorescent thrum, the warming table, carol
over an aching fontanel.
Second row the labyrinths grow and recede
: orangutan, flying dog from Madagascar,
pale implements, still holding in their hoop
the rustle of rain in grass, the sand
along the plummeting third
: spanned gymnura, trichechus,
the chiming sea, its peal, bell of itself and deeper
to the prehistoric bear, hyena, echo into the cave.
Fifth and sixth row
: rodents, curled like hibernation itself, tail spiral,
scratch, skitter, trill, and coil, writhe of a pink fingerling
pianissimo against the large pachydermal sweep, ivorial and tusking,
seventh row, the hoof of the eighth.
The last labyrinths
: shift to bird, light, light, the case can’t hold them. They hover
on the tips of the velvet lining, a golden string,
the very origin of inquiry.