Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Beginnings & Ends


‘I feel terribly privileged when I’m handling human brains.’

Hold the brain, turn it this way and that.
Examine the features and membranes.
Look at the patterns and foldings.
Feel the surface for softenings
which may indicate a stroke.

Wipe away the drops of formalin.
Cut through the brain stem,
home of everyday actions.
Separate the cerebellum.
Take what looks like a bread knife and
slice the coronal sections.
Lay them out like biscuits on a tray.

Inspect each slice.
Check for changes in hue.
Stain the tissue.
Embed it in paraffin.

The marbled world of the brain
stroked and sliced and analysed.
So much unsealed.
So much concealed.
Perfect print of life.

Inspired by a You Tube video (2010) by Martha Henson for Wellcome Trust featuring neuropathologist Steve Gentleman dissecting brains. Available


Blood splashes the girl’s front.
Life ebbed away.
Meat to look forward to.

Work first.
Clean the bowls.
Haul the carcass.
Scrub the floor.
Warm water spatters rosy liquid
bringing life to numb fingers.

Glide the knife under the skin.
Slip it off the carcass
like a jacket from the shoulders of a child.

The carcass hangs.

Finally the butchery.
Each portion packed in ice.
Each portion tenderly wrapped.
Some salted and cured.

The village gathers
in the savoury drenched hall.
The hullabaloo clambers into dusk.
Carving knives flash and slice.
Platters pass from hand to hand.
Cider flows. Juices run.

A child calls out.
The ceilidh gathers.

The women return,
rosy faced from scrubbing dishes.
They throw out their aprons to the music
as if they’ll never need them again.

Beginnings and ends

Shadows slip from the walls
collapsed cartoons falling
into sleep-starved minds
calling, calling
to a pinprick of time
when you held me,
blood spilling down my leg
turning to jelly as I sobbed.
You soothe, moved by the tears
that so often rankled.
Layers of mystery.
Muffled banks between us.

Later you laugh at some joke I make.
Stroke my spots and bumps.
Shake the core of the kicked apple.
I, intact, pushing out branches,
as you, imperceptibly, shrink
pip-like to the beginnings and ends
of your time, our time.

On the hospital bed, crumpled, foetus-like
the enema’s work a brown stain on plastic pad.
And the shadows come,
we are here, they say, we are here.
And I say, I am here.
I wrap you and hold you
high like a star
and you, triumphant,
smash the panes of years.

And we see each other
Cleanly. Clearly. Brightly.

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