“Words, words, words.”
“What is the matter … ?”
Shakespeare’s Hamlet II.ii. 194-95.


The sensors itch his temples,
but he cannot scratch.
His fingertips are filamented to the screen.
The digital words unleash around him.

cup plate oak dog rape book

When can he eat?
It is hard to concentrate.
A stupid test
but time off for good behaviour.

100 17 83 69 55 21

The brain scan looks like liver and onions,
the entwining meat.
His amygdala pulses steadily,
measuredly, no shooting stars,
no hot rush.

bible altar pew font hymnal cross
host chalice wine organ pyx advent

Judy never visits him here in the clinic.
She smiles in his dreams in the cell.
All crimson lips, brows and lashes
lighter than her shining ringlets, unusual.

She likes his swooping robes,
as good as a tent.
A pretty, little girl,
whose hand is still within his
as they light the candle.
Her lips become O’s with benediction,
in praise for the bloodied crucifix,
in praise for the organ.

But for the seepage,
Judy, seraphic as a Madonna,
so pure, so pale.

percolate multiply photograph sodomize duplicate hesitate

Oh Father, Oh Father.
You are saved. You are healed.
(That hot rush.)

holey wholly holy

drink play hop brush chew kill

At lunch, he will save his candy treat for Judy
or her little sister.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Doxology”?

I like to combine technical vocabulary and subject matter, increasingly medical, with the lyric poem. “Amygdala” is a particular portion of the brain, and the word flows pleasingly from the tongue in “Doxology” (and elsewhere!). Also, in the poem, science and religion meet, and not in “Intelligent Design”. What prompted writing the poem was learning of an experiment at UBC in which psychopaths, among others, underwent tests that would light up, or not, parts of their brains. Words that would shock so-called normal people, words such as “rape” and “murder,” showed no response in the psychopaths. Accused of child abuse, the minister at a church where my family has attended Christmas Eve services, a man about whom I knew nothing but the whiff of scandal, grew in my head as a possible character. What might he have done in his position of power? What if he were forced to undertake the UBC test? What might be revealed? With the two disparate pieces of information—possibly predatory paedophilic parson and the scientific experiment, I felt compelled to write. The story is bare bones, but an astute reader can make the connection between the bolded words, words both literally and figuratively, and the exposition about the tested, who has done something dreadful but who recalls little and who feels even less remorse. The poem is a sort of a puzzle, with its play on words and double entendres, as early on as the title.

This poem “Doxology” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 160 (Spring 1999): 14-15.

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