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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Two Poems
byJeff Gundy
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Brain Remembers Things That Did Not Happen
     -Reuters Headline, 11/22/00
In the sixth year of the war I left my daughter
where I knew the enemy would find her.

I dug the last potatoes in the cold mist,
warmed by the work. Too often the spade
sliced the best ones, dirtying the white flesh.

In the fourth year of the war I traded my tools
for six cans of soup. Steak with potatoes, chicken corn chowder.

There was a high room behind and stage left,
we gathered late at night, carefully.

We should try to talk to them, she insisted.

In the third year of the war I made colonel. Me.

Could you slide that cup this way, she wheedled--
I hate the taste but I love the smell.

In the first year of the war we watched for hints,
sure that the end was near. The news, the birds.

Her first smile, like daybreak, just for me.
Anything you want. Anything.

The great white bear gliding, arms open like a mother.

Ancient Themes: Of Some Disorders of the Soule

"not the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical, nor the courtier's, which is proud . . ."
          -As You Like It

1. Tristimania

The hypochondriac is a visionary of the most pitiful sort,
giving credite to the mistaken report of the braine.
The subject of the patient's distress is delusions
about his person, affairs, or conditions. To wit:

1. He supposes himself to be poisoned.
2. He believe that he has a wolf in his liver.
3. He imagines himself to be converted to a goose, a cock, a dog,
a cat, a hare, a cow, etc.
4. He believe he inherits the soul of some fellow creature,
e.g. a calf.
5. He believes he has no soul.
6. He believes he is transformed into a plant.
7. Or into glass.

So Benjamin Rush, 1812. Or Burton,
"a kind of dotage without any fever, and then
like a lame dogge or broken winged goose
he droops and pines away." Or they suppose
an old woman rides, & sits so hard upon them,
that they are almost stifled for want of breath.

Homer, of Bellorophontes: "But when he was hated
of all the gods, then he wandered alone on the plain of Aleium,
eating out his heart, and avoiding the track of men."

2. Acedia

Cassian notes that this, the "midday demon,"
is especially trying to solitaries, who will gaze
at the sun as if it were too slow in setting.
"My soul slept from weariness,"
wrote the Psalmist, and in truth the soul
wounded by the shaft of this passion does sleep.

Anne Finch: A Calm of stupid Discontent.

Sloth makes powerless and dries out the sinews
so that man is good for nothing. In Breughel
the dreaming farmer idles on the rough bench,
chin in hand and face in shadow.

The family of acrobats waits at the roadside,
bearing the idle look of those who feel themselves
unobserved. In the sky, heavy clouds and thin.

3. The Man with a Fire in His Head

No one saw him disembark in the unanimous night,
and only fire knew that his son Borges was a phantom.

And Teresa of Avila:
the pain of God's setting the soul on fire
is quite unlike the suffering of melancholy,
which is the Devil's work.

With fear and sadness he stepped into the flames
and found that they neither pained nor consumed him.

And Cassian: "And so the true Christian athlete
who desires to strive lawfully in the lists of perfection,
should hasten to expel this disease also
from the recesses of his soul, so that he may neither
fall stricken through by the shaft of slumber,
nor be driven out from the monastic cloister."

And Lucian:
See thou twist not the rope so hard, till at length it break.

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