Thomas Jefferson’s brain

on display today in London
bastion of civilized contradictions
fossils skeletons stuffed specimens
on the spectrum from dinosaurs to dolphins
seen through all these shades of humanity

from Adam man alone has the past as burden
a future dimly seen through history twisted
mislaid misrepresented cut down on a whim
like a thousand-year-old tree collected labeled
arranged by color and date and purpose in glass

cases to admire our own wars and weapons
teeming termite-hills of fear and greed
the paper trail of our forbears magnificent
jumble and the thing I want to do I cannot

make heads or tails of these Latin lines
translate virulent wonder into beauty
a POINT neat and prim as Jefferson’s
handwriting logical legible underscored

for the good of all people

I am processing a weekend trip to London which included a visit to the Natural History Museum, the National Maritime Museum, and the British Library’s exhibit on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, where I was captivated by Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence.

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10 thoughts on “Thomas Jefferson’s brain

    1. Thank you. The Natural History museum had a “termite hill” that you could walk inside to learn about those clever icky guys…whew, it really stuck with me!

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  1. I feel the breathlessness here, and maybe a little overwhelmed: “fear and greed,” ” the thing I want to do I cannot.” I love the juxtaposition between that and Jefferson’s logic but my favourite aspect, and it’s both technical and linguistic, is the way you create a double meaning when you break stanzas and then continue your thought in a slightly different way.

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    1. Oh, yay! I was doing a lot of messing around with taking out punctuation and changing line breaks. Maybe too breathless…I might try it with shorter lines…or not. 🙂

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  2. So much to think about here. I visited Jefferson’s donated library that created the Library of Congress a couple years ago. His brain is an excellent inspiration for artists of all kinds. It was so big and unafraid.

    Love your ruminations on human history, and your wonder at the complex interplay of human history, natural history, and human striving.

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