Kevin Prufer

Winner of the The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award in 2003

Brain Death



How does the body contain so much blood?
The brain sleeps in it

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so when we bleed we lose ourselves.

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The brain under its curved sky of bone, the brain that turns on its stem like a water lily.

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A cluster of leaves and bloom, a hum of flies. The day retards into dusk. Horsefly, dragonfly,

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a dull thrum of clear wings against the ear. What is their   
     language?
I want my hands to flex when the doctor stings them.

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I want to open my mouth and speak.

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It is either a long and mindless sleep
or a translation into a language I do not know.

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The blood that washes the brain to sleep. The wings that rest
on the unfurled petal. Divine translation, strange word, insect

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where the soul should be.
line

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.

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