from PHRENOLOGY // an attempt
In the beginning, science class was exhilarating. Not yet acclimated to the squeamish hallmark of my sex, I would pick up anything.
That delirious green beetle I found desiccated on the windowsill had a back so soft that my fingertip wasn’t sensitive enough to appreciate it. I held it to my eyelid, finally my lips. I rubbed one spot, over and over, until the softness had left it.
I touched an electric fence once1 when I was ten, at a friend’s house. The voltage was low enough that it thrummed through me, like a sine wave from bones to tendons to veins. I was not deterred at all, and thought often, later, of getting that feeling back: the hum of electrons coming together.
Later, at the beach, tiny jellyfish washed up in daunting numbers under windy skies, looking for all the world like egg whites, emptied of yolks. I wanted to hold one, but my grandmother said they had a sting like an electric shock. As soon as my grandmother turned her back, I reached out a tentative finger. The mass had a solid feel; it had an unexpected skin around the clear softness. There was no shock at all.
Differentiation. Orogeny. Anion. Mitosis. Batholith. Telophase. Syngamy. Escape velocity.
Things separate from the whole: atoms, stars, continents, stones, leaves, cells, skin, parents. Things also come together.
It isn’t a good idea to be the girl who likes torn skin and spiders and snakes. You might find yourself differentiating from the group. Stratifying2. If you are the girl who looks when a bug is stepped on or a mouse is half eaten by your own cat, your orbit may widen out and flatten, like a comet, your view moving farther from the center to an outer perimeter. It will feel as far away as Cassiopeia, as Arcturus3.
Sometimes an obsession feels like looking out different windows and seeing the same landscape, like turning the radio dial and hearing the same song over and over.
1 A lot of words in English confuse the idea of life and electricity, like the word livewire. Laurie Anderson
2 We shall of course be told that they must go into the water before they can learn to swim; but what is proposed is not to teach them to swim: it is to throw them all at once into a fathomless ocean, where they will drown themselves, and pull down those who were swimming there, or trying to swim before them. Francis Parkman, “The Woman Question” 1872
3 If you can’t give me poetry, can’t you give me poetical science? Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace
Chelsea Biondolillo‘s work has appeared in Orion, Sonora Review, Passages North, Brevity, River Teeth, Hayden’s Ferry Review and others. Her chapbook, Ologies, features “Phrenology,” a notable selection in Best American Essays 2014 and “How to Skin a Bird,” which won Shenandoah‘s Carter Prize for the Essay. She has an MFA in creative writing and environmental studies from the University of Wyoming and is currently at work on a book about vultures.
A recipient of a 2015 NEA Fellowship for poetry, grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Kentucky Foundation for Women, Staci R. Schoenfeld’s poems appear in or are forthcoming from Washington Square, Mid-American Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Muzzle, and Southern Humanities Review, among others. She is a PhD student at the University of South Dakota.