Used Brains

Use Brains

My med school’s histology lab at night:
Many microscopes, thousands of slides
Glass stained cathedrals from so many lost
They never knew us; we can’t know them
In the corner two drawers marked in clear hand
“Used Brains, 1968-69”

I had to look, a soft quick pull and
There they were: straight rows and columns
So quiet they startle fluorescents to silence
Surfaces the texture of a winter evening

Used for? Used up? Not clearly used at all
Uncut, unsectioned, no tumors, clean
Stripped only of their gossamer sheaths
The mind’s transparent wings

Who were they?
The riots erupted only blocks away
Had Martin and Bobby’s deaths’ caused their ends?
These cool brains were not saying

Feeling a fool amidst their silence
We watched each other a long while
Clouds touch windows while the clock ticks
So much I wanted to know from them
Too much they might ask me

And where are those brains today
Concealed, revealed? Elevated? Liquidated?
On this cool winter evening
I wish I knew what they wanted to ask
Knowing the answers I might have given
All I can’t say now


You often can’t know what’s been lost
Especially when it’s your own brain
If medical school best performed by trained apes
We stood eager and nervous apes
Expecting that career’s possibilities:
Education through humiliation
Recurrent thirty-six hour shifts
Crashing asleep at birthday parties

Yet I was not prepared for the first day’s command:
“Give us your brain
We must stuff your head with so many facts
There’s need to free up all its space
Don’t worry, in the end we’ll give it back.”

The unzipping painless, floods of facts copious
We hardly noticed except on rare holidays:
Parental disquiet with changed personalities
A lessening of levity for all things living
We had no choice. “Make a mistake and the patient dies.”
Who would not try to work towards perfection?

At the end of the long training decade
We clamored to get our brains back
Yet we’d been tricked – our heads held no space
I recalled Dr. Guevara’s revolutionary dictum:
Medical training the worst waste of one’s youth
Ever devised
Castro’s quack was right on track

Each year I lose more of my medical brain
Worries diminish its pulpy grey mass
Now perhaps there’s room for the old one
Any idea where they put it?

And if I do get it back
Will it still work?