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Guillotined

Don’t let’s be unpleased, Doctor, these convulsions
can be undone would have been a romantic thing to say on a ship
crossing the Atlantic some stormy night in 1840 after falling in love
with the crew doctor and feigning hysterics just to be treated in the dim wavering
light of his cabin. Instead, it was Phillip Lightfoot I kissed that time
in the 7th grade when he spent the night with my brother who finally
went to bed and it was apparent Lightfoot was there only to slobber
all over my lips and I thought if this is what French kissing is like I’ll just have to
deal with this for the rest of my life. This was after 5th-grade-
crush-on-Justin who didn’t know I was alive but whose friend Buddy wrote Kristin is Love
on the white toecaps of his converse all-stars the same year
I resolved only to write poems with a timeless deep hidden meaning (TDHM)
and shared class with a girl named Laura who while scratching
inky swirls into her desk told me This is My Mind and Cathy at P.E.
told everyone she fucked 12 guys and none of us including her
had even kissed a boy, not even Lightfoot. Later I heard
a French physiologist had cut off a German Shepherd’s head
to see how long it could live without a body, showing his colleagues
the subsequent flinch in response to a banging hammer and note
the contracted pupils under bright light, the tongue reaching out
to lick citric acid from its lips. My idealism surrounding the French kiss
lived on this way, deprived of sustenance. As the math teacher
scribbled Venn diagrams on the board I pictured myself
aboard that ship opening a chest to find instead of treasure,
a prop, rudder, a missing starboard plank. I pictured rare birds, parrots
behind lush palm fronds squawking parrot calls, meaningful
only to other parrots. From the backseat of Shanna’s car
the mushrooms made everything pass by outside the open window
in high school high speed, eyes fluttering to catch each tree, some
rare feathered memory
to unfold years afterward with great depth and conviction.
I kept a diary to document important things
or things that might later be important. The average brain, for example,
weighs 1,360 grams and when members of the Society of Mutual Autopsy
dissected its founder’s brain after waiting for him to die of natural causes
were disappointed his only weighed 1,234 grams and rationalized this
by appealing to old age. This old guy
named Chris who was too old to hang out with college kids
started a commune in the backwoods of Tuscaloosa and observed while we
carried ourselves toward great marvels around campfires and made sentences
out of the veins of leaves and from moonlight through trees and coincidences like
I’m an Aquarius and you’re an Aquarius and our rising sign and Oh My God
and where I fell hard for a guy named Jack who sat behind me in the mid-woods
massage train and later convincingly stroked my hair while we lay naked and post-coital
in the clammy leaves and who weeks later fell in love with a pixie
he met at some music festival and I immediately thought he’s not
that doctor on that ship anyhow and pictured myself opening up
a treasure chest to find another smaller treasure chest holding
an even smaller chest and so on until I held between two fingers
a tiny chest yet unopened.
It wasn’t just the French guy
who did this with dogs but the Russians did it too, using anti-coagulants and a primitive
heart-lung machine called the Autojector to keep those heads alive
and everyone in Russia believed one day all we’d need were our heads and whole universities
would be taught by bodiless professors and they could cut down this way
on the costs of faculty housing. Some things are worth economizing on,
Scott once told me on the side of the road in Big Bend where we’d run out
of gas and he sat by a cactus shaving shirtless in the sunlight with a small
round mirror and a hunting knife and some things, he said, are not. My friend
knows a girl who kept a journal about her one true love
to give him one day when she finally met him and I thought how
hopeful and stupid can one girl be and how freaked out
the guy would be reading it. Depending on the oxygen trapped in the brain
a severed head can live on for 13 seconds and once the heads of two French rivals
bit each other inside the dark burlap bag, each with the particular pleasure
of knowing what was coming to them both. Sullen mornings
alone I can’t give up the Timeless part but I’m willing to part
with the Deep and the Hidden. I keep thinking of walruses and mongooses
so removed from all of this, I think of great scientists
traversing oceans and knowing what to look for in those dark waters.
I think of the wild optimism of Sir John Lubbock who was so sure
ants communicated by sounds indiscernible to the human ear
but so distinct to other ants that he held up a telephone between two anthills and kicked over
one to observe any response in the other which there was
none. This he was able to accept, moving on
to other experiments. This he was able to accept, moving on.

___
Kristin Marie Kostick is an anthropologist and writer living in Hartford. In recent years she was awarded the 2004 Wallace Stevens Award and the 2004 Long River Review Graduate Creative Writing Award from the University of Connecticut, and the 2002 Thomas Wolfe Award for Creative Writing from the University of Alabama. Her work has appeared in Small Spiral Notebook and the Long River Review. She helps to run (with poet Andrea Henchey) a monthly reading series and open-mic in Hartford called Inescapable Rhythms.

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