Brainwaves, and Reflections on the Taung Child

by Sarah Boots


I. Frontal
A sulcus
on the prefrontal cortex,
with its come-hither
crook, reading
like a palm or a thumbprint,
a horoscope or 2-DG
today is a good day
to take risks.
II. Parietal
Somatosensory snakes a band
across the canyon
of the corpus callosum,
housing its homunculus
who is bending over backwards
to feel
everything there is to be felt,
a particular, sprawling mess,
all hands and mouth, face,
and fingertips
down your spine,
or at least down your lateral corticospinal tract.
III. Temporal
The primary auditory cortex,
he told you,
is organized tonotopically,
and you taste the word
with its too too tos
and its popping top,
and you tilt
your head to listen
as the world snaps out sounds
like a ligand-gated ion channel,
calcium ion influx and fire,
fire fire.
IV. Occipital
Two yellow
sweeping searchlights
criss-cross the cold air
and lightning
through the thalamus to meet,
through the fusiform face area
(or is it the flexible fusiform area?)
like green and red fireworks
against the bluest
blue sky
your striate cortex has ever seen.

Reflections on the Taung Child

Life sciences are by nature
morbid, because despite what lies
your course catalogue may tell you,
they do deal a lot more with death
than with the other thing—
so not to be more morbid
than is professionally necessary, but, oh,
would I love to be fossilized when I die.

“Let’s poke it with a stick,”
says my pre-med friend, metaphorically,
whenever we come across something we don’t understand,
so let’s poke this with a stick—why fossilization? Lingering
and all-too-obvious wish for immortality? Not that, I think,
this time, but merely a minor pearled desire
to be a permanent stone unknown, like the finger-bones
of saints kicked pebbly along a creek bed
by barefoot human children in the far, far future,
as they fish and watch the Ray Bradbury rockets launch for Mars,
or something.

Just that, or just the thought
that when I have been gone
for as long again as I had waited
after the birth of the species
to be born,
then, one last time,
and carefully,
warm muscle and blood and living hands,
blessed life-warmed carbon compounds,
matchless in the universe and so holiest of holies,
will press against
and lift again
a curved white rind
of rock that once housed mind
and thought, and grocery lists,
and politics, and probabilities,
and promises, and poetry,
and petty grudges, and, say, eighty-odd years
of nothing more nor less than life.