The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award - 2003
How does the body contain so much blood?
The brain sleeps in it
so when we bleed we lose ourselves.
The brain under its curved sky of bone, the brain that turns on its stem like a water lily.
A cluster of leaves and bloom, a hum of flies. The day retards into dusk. Horsefly, dragonfly,
a dull thrum of clear wings against the ear. What is their
I want my hands to flex when the doctor stings them.
I want to open my mouth and speak.
It is either a long and mindless sleep
or a translation into a language I do not know.
The blood that washes the brain to sleep. The wings that rest
on the unfurled petal. Divine translation, strange word, insect
where the soul should be.
Marilyn Chin on Kevin Prufer
"Brain Death" is a brilliant riff on "I Heard A Fly Buzz when I Died." In Prufer's poem, the reader is delivered into a twenty-first century consciousness; one could imagine the speaker in the emergency ward, her brain seeped in blood after a terrible accident, the machinery about to flat-line. She is in catatonic state, her consciousness floats between life and death and is buoyed by strange but beautiful associative imagery:
"Hands to flex when the doctor stings them..." "the brain that turns on its stem like a water lily." The long lines and the clever use of breath and space further deepen the "divine translation."
In the final analysis, even the Dickinsonian insect is reduced to a "strange word." And ultimately, the poem ends by commenting on the failure of language to describe our complex predicament.