“Practical Anatomy” by William H. Wandless

William H. Wandless


Receptors on the tongue can detect perhaps
eight flavors: salty, sour, bitter, and sweet
routinely, umami and kokumi
if one becomes accustomed to the pairings
and partings of Eastern cuisine, and of course
iron and ash. This will explain your taste
for the subtler mushrooms, buttery wines,
and sunburnt shoulders, the mouthfeel of every Yes
you regret. In each inch of skin one finds thirty feet
of nerves prepared to fire or fail, almost
two hundred committed to touch, ten times
as many dedicated to real, remembered,
and expected pain. In a lifetime you will shed
half your weight in skin, cells expended in the search
for the pains you prefer or deserve. The brain (and this
may be the sovereign paradox of the body)
cannot itself feel pain; it must explain
sensations to the organs and extremities
using strong Saxon words, as you would describe
love or culture to a foreign, feral child.
When the head aches blood is to blame, or the heart
to be precise, pumping with a rhythmic disregard
for all the damage it will do, smug in its seat
just left of center, not quite where you think,
darker, too, and smaller, balled like a fist.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018


William H. Wandless: “Michigan winters take a toll on the body, but some days I set out for long walks to clear my head. The walking itself seldom helps, as the work of it typically feels more like penance than exercise. When I get back inside, however, I know I’ll enjoy the essential benefit: the feeling of my body overcoming numbness, putting me back together sense by sense. This poem, and the verse I love the most, makes a grab for that feeling of restoration. Poetry returns to me things I’ve been missing.” (web)

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