Topography: The Brain Scan – Verse by B. A. St. Andrews

After you’ve become a human drum
to let high frequency thrumming
create magnetic pictures of your

brain, you examine the evidence,
cut by lateral cut, frame by
polarized frame: full frontal

nudity at its most arousing. Shot
one: your skull is like Saturn
its outer ring luminous, the next

dark, oceanic, shifting: you can
nearly hear finely ground shells
and sand skuffing against your

porcelain land. Another layer
of snow-white light rings black
bone, making an anatomical map

of your headlands, your beaches,
the most interior reaches of your
secret home. Your brain is this

island in a sea of bone. Slice
by slice the territory is charted.
Your fontanelle, the “soft spot,”

the last baby bone to close, spills
its secrets. You have held
babies of your own, have seen this

pulse and heard the little fountain
gurgle its tenuous “I am,” its
miraculous “I will.” This is your

headwater: the source of your
Nile. Shot six, clean as mitosis,
shows the walnut shell split

down its center, each side a winged
maple seed that makes a child’s
whistle. Then sudden, shocking,

bright as night mushrooms, two
bulbous moons rise: your eyes
surrounded by rock and spongy

as play-dough. In this sleight
of mind one marvel follows another
but when the great brain stem

sprouts into view you know this
is a godly thing like a single
braid announcing a pharaoh’s

child: this is the true royal
coil. By shot twenty-two you
can see every hole in your

head. Your brain’s spread out
like some gigantic Rorschach
blot: Kali rises from flame,

one powerful O’Keeffe flower
stirs in your windless sky.
At its bottom, the widening

brain is a horseshoe crab
scuttling over a silent
boulder-strewn shore.


B.A. St. AndrewsB.A. St. Andrews’s poems have appeared in some of the world’s premier journals and magazines, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and JAMA. Before she died from a brain tumor in 2003, she was the founding editor of The Healing Muse and the distinguished teaching professor of bioethics and humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University. “Entering a medical university, I was transported to a world of open-heart surgeries, DNRs, neonatal ICUs, and MRIs,” she said. “I had found my strange way home to a place I’d never been before, leaving the illuminating questions of the liberal arts and entering the dubious certainties of medical science. Far from being separate, art and science, I discovered, are Siamese twins joined at the heart. They are two hands clapping.” St. Andrews authored two books of poetry: Stealing the Light and Learning from Renoir.