Animal Electricity

The full poem is published in Petrol, Cyan, Electric, and in the Hippocrates Prize Anthology 2013.

Animal Electricity
Newgate, 1803

[1] Giovanni Aldini

He knows contact between steel scalpel and brass rod
will twitch a frog’s leg, although the leg is dissected.

He has passed an electric arc through the conduit of his ear,
felt the jolt of fluid against the bone of his skull.

He has seen metallic wires in a pile of silver and zinc
flutter the lids of a decapitated ox.

He knows it’s electricity that animates nerves,
the ventricles of the brain, muscles, limbs,

though he looks to the dead for proof.
But when he recalls that morning in Newgate,

Foster’s hanged body, the conducting rods, the battery,
how the jaw contorted as if in pain

and one accusing eye opened, a shocked witness,
it’s not medicine he thinks of but this: his own night fever,

ghost torturers fingering wires inside his head,
river spirits whispering like wind around his bed.