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Sample Poems by Arthur Ginsberg


The first time I ever saw a brain
pink and throbbing in its ivory safe,
it bulged through a hole the surgeon made
to let the pressure out and save
my aunt who hit her head against a wall.
I was transfixed by curiosity;
that holy ordering of ridge and rut
fed by more tributaries than the sea,
repository for every thought.

Grail of the mind, I've searched
the signatures brain-waves draw
from nerve cells shaped like tadpoles
in a microscope, watched patients
seized by toxins, tics and strokes.
The nature of thought remains unknown;
what leap occurs between the ear and tongue,
elusive as chimera or a bowl
of sky that fills me, the brain,
mortal bridegroom of the soul.

Dreaming with Einstein

In the dream I am sitting beside
Einstein, and he is speaking
like a friend, pointing to a clock
suspended on a gold chain around
his neck, nothing Daliesque about it,
simply a timepiece stopped.
Behind us, winding its way through
the cushions on our couch, a river
which should not be there,
but gurgles along, and I can see
bereavement in his tranquil eyes
as he goes on talking about the fiction
of time, how we could join hands, and
walk into the river behind us
like children, float on our backs,
stare up into the night sky,
his lovely shock of white hair
spread like a bridal train across
our wake, bathed in light.

The Anatomist

In this colony of bones
he steps between cadavers
like a priest, benedictions on his lips,
tells us the soul no longer inhabits
these houses. His tapered
fingers guide my scalpel. We open
caverns filled with flowers
and serpents. He recalls

the prison camp near Shanghai
where he peeled the husks
from bodies punctured by bamboo.
The blood strained through
colanders of gristle and bone.
Calcium wrapping itself
in lamellae like rinds of bark.

Padded by muscle. Tailored
in skin. He dissects from clavicle to coccyx
by torchlight and the rustle of paddy rice,
discovers how tendons shackle
tubercles, pull fingers and toes
like marionettes. He knows death's end.
I study his maps on heft of heart,

the preordained contour of brain.
One winter a voyage from pole to pole
to see with Caravaggio's eyes,
flesh's truth. In this cathedral of bones
he points like a compass to anatomic north,
unwraps the skin with reverence,
body parts handled like reliquary.

On the brink of another world, he
remembers his face reflected
in the eyes of a soldier's last glance.
The sound of body bags
being zippered at dawn. We
are his disciples, inheritors

of secrets. In death he bequeaths
his humble skeleton wrapped in linen,
an offering to students of the human,
exalted as the nameless soldiers
who left him their final gift.

After the Heart Attack

he lay on crisp, white sheets, hallucinating
bicycle wheels revolving in the injured sack
behind ramparts of ribs. Care-givers' voices
grew loud, then faded like children's
playing tag in a forest. Hemmed in
by this labyrinth, he could not see sky
through the canopy. Toward the end, doctors

spread his chest, glued a patch to the pump.
Wire sutures trussed him like a Thanksgiving bird.
Wrist and ankle restraints, suspended by
pulleys from the ceiling, lifted him each night
into air where he swam weightlessly, brilliant
as a firefly between hard shafts of surgical steel.

When the heart padlocked its empty house,
drew down its stubborn gate, he soared
through the forest, bathed in dappled light,
unaware of the crashcart's shock,
listening to the leaves calling his name.