Home > Poetry > Walt Whitman’s Brain Dropped on Laboratory Floor
Published: Sat Oct 15 1988
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
Walt Whitman’s Brain Dropped on Laboratory Floor

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.

See what's inside AGNI 27

Thomas Lux (1946–2017) was born in Norfolk, Massachusetts, and graduated from Emerson College. He taught at Sarah Lawrence College between 1975 and 2001, and at Georgia Tech, where he ran the Poetry @ Tech program. He was the author of fourteen books of poetry.

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