C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

The Head Evolves Behind The Eyes

By: James Grabill


The human head isn’t hard to find, unless you’re looking down. It’s never finished making its appearance, always in process, linking eyes with other animals, singing to leaves of the oak tree. The head does most of the talking, while the body pursues its own matters, running the motor of the liver, adjusting circulatory fuses. The forehead glows with thinking just a few inches above the lips which the cells fashioned over millennia of kissing and being kissed. All wiring and plumbing is piped to and from the head through a neck which is tenuous at first, when the newly born head must be cradled in one hand as the other holds the little body, the thin neck calling attention to human vulnerability and astonishing evolutionary value of the partnership between the body and brain, complex physicality and consciousness. The longer you live on Earth, the more attached they are, the more you see culture as people collaborating on survival, possibly because the nature of the head is irrepressible, essential. It’s certainly not optional. If it falls off, that’s the end of the show, however many galaxies are wheeling over the The Tears of St. Peter.




James Grabill’s work appears in Caliban, Harvard Review, Terrain, Mobius, Shenandoah, Seattle Review, Stand, and many others. Books - Poem Rising Out of the Earth (1994), An Indigo Scent after the Rain (2003), Lynx House Press. Environmental prose poems, Sea-Level Nerve: Books One (2014), Two (2015), Wordcraft of Oregon. For many years, he taught all kinds of writing as well as “systems thinking” and global issues relative to sustainability. "After a twelve-year immersion in global issues related to “carrying capacity” of the planet, ecosystem interconnections with “services” provided by species, and the ability of civilization to continue over the long term, I found myself unable to stop writing, attempting to integrate into the historical backdrop of my poems certain particulars (such as primary and secondary effects of climate disruption) and to address impossible-to-ignore ethical issues (such as the need for “equity within and between generations”). Two volumes of prose poems addressing ecological, social, or psychological issues from all sorts of perspectives were the first result: Sea-Level Nerve, Book One and Book Two, from David Memmott’s Wordcraft of Oregon press. But stacks of notes and unfinished drafts remain, while new poems and prose poems continue to surface. Along the way, I’ve experimented with all kinds of techniques, from lyric expressions, reports (of findings described in an issue of Scientific American, say), incantations (often surreal), arguments, and parody (such as writing in the voice of the John Birch Water Dept. or Charles Koch). At some point, treating the brain, mind, or certain parts of the body as characters in the story of consciousness seemed, sometimes, to work. Since I’m generally working on a number of pieces at once, it’s hard to be more specific about “The Head Evolves…” I can say that I never expected the detail about holding a new born to jump into the poem, but when it happened it struck me as something the subconscious had been working on. When writing, I try to be open for this kind of material from less conscious parts of the brain in terms of imagery, examples, ideas, word choice, and ongoing musicality. I’m grateful the piece connected with Cathexis."

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