A Brain Bruise, a Blue Blessing

Peter T. Donahue

I assign my students to write poems, play with language, and explain the effects they hoped to achieve. The sixteen-year-old girl who survived a subdural hematoma writes,

My head pounds like my brain
is going to brust out of my skull.

She says the effect she was going for was that “the more my friends think about it, the more I inspire them to live their lives to the fullest, and thats a great achievement.” But her spelling error puts me in mind of Chaucer’s abecedarium, “La Priere de Nostre Dame.” Under “B” he asks the Virgin to intercede—

er that my ship to-breste!

Or, before his ship is blown to bits. My own brain goes sea-faring, nudged offshore by a little accidental metathesis. Bless me: blesser is French for hurt; faire un bleu is bruise. Was her brain blest or brust? According to a linguist at Ohio State (on a webpage not updated since 2002), metatheses in North American English tend to occur around liquid consonants— “r” and “l.” We say, comfterble, nucular, Chipolte. We interduce ourselves to purty girls. But not since the middle ages have briddes flown in a beorht sky, have brands brent.

So there’s something medieval to me about that brust; the funnel-hatted deadpan charlatan from Bosch’s Stone Operation appears in a mirror. What am I doing, knife in hand, trying to trepan poetry from the skull of a girl who looked at death and lived?

Peter T. Donahue teaches English at an independent school in northern New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and son. He writes, makes music and draws cartoons.


  1. Awesome.

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