Pre-Defense Poem

I am defending my thesis tomorrow. I got this email from one of the professors on my committee today:


Here is a heads-up about what to expect tomorrow:

The Examination

by W. D. Snodgrass

Under the thick beams of that swirly smoking light,

The black robes are huddled in together.

Hunching their shoulders, they spread short, broad sleeves like night-

Black grackles’ wings; then they reach bone-yellow leather-

Y fingers, each to each. And are prepared. Each turns

His single eye—or since one can’t discern their eyes,

That reflective, single, moon-pale disc which burns

Over each brow—to watch this uncouth shape that lies

Strapped to their table. One probes with his ragged nails

The slate-sharp calf, explores the thigh and the lean thews

Of the groin. Others raise, red as piratic sails,

His wings, stretching, trying the pectoral sinews.

One runs his finger down the whet of that cruel

Golden beak, lifts back the horny lids from the eyes,

Peers down in one bright eye malign as a jewel

And steps back suddenly. “Is he anesthetize-

D?” “He is. He is. He is.” The tallest of them, bent

Down by the head rises: “This drug possesses powers

Sufficient to still all gods in this firmament.

This is Garuda who was fierce. He’s yours for hours.

“We shall continue, please.” Now, once again, he bends

To the skull, and its clamped tissues; into the cran-

Ial cavity, he plunges both of his hands.

Like obstetric forceps and lifts out the great brain,

Holds it aloft, then gives it to the next who stands

Beside him. Each, in turn, accepts it, although loath,

Turns it this way, that way, feels it between his hands

Like a wasp’s nest or some sickening outsized growth.

They must decide what thoughts each part of it must think.

They tap at, then listen beside, each suspect lobe;

Next, with a crow’s quill dipped into India ink,

Mark on its surface, as if on a map or globe,

Those dangerous areas which need to be excised.

They rinse it, then apply antiseptics to it;

Now silver saws appear which, inch by inch, slice

Through its ancient folds and ridges, like thick suet.

It’s rinsed, dried, and daubed with thick salves. The smoky saws

Are scrubbed, resterilized, and polished till they gleam.

The brain is repacked in its case. Pinched in their claws,

Glimmering needles stitch it up, that leave no seam.

Meantime, one of them has set blinders to the eyes,

Inserted light packing beneath each of the ears,

And caulked the nostrils in. One, with thin twine, ties

[Up the heart]. With long wooden-handled shears,

Another chops pinions out of the scarlet wings.

It’s hoped that with disuse, he will forget the sky

Or, at least, in time, learn, among other things,

To fly no higher than his superiors fly.

Well, that’s a beginning. The next time, they can split

His tongue and teach him to talk correctly, can give

Him opinions on fine books and choose clothing fit

For the integrated area where he’ll live.

Their candidate may live to give them thanks one day.

He might recover and may hope for such success

He might return to rejoin their ranks. Bowing away,

They nod, whispering, “One of ours; one of ours. Yes. Yes.”



~ by Barky on April 18, 2013.

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