Kathleen Winter
Gift

Tom’s busy proving infinity comes in different sizes.
            This is the present
                                    he’s waited all evening to give me.

I’m too tired to follow, though it boils down to one
                        extra
                        number
                                    squeezed in diagonally,
                        found by a man
                        hounded into madness.

Yorick’s skull, once full of infinite jest, is just an empty shell

                                    & mine feels vacant too, straining
            to keep pace with Tom’s explanation.

The late hour’s unwound me. His proof covers a full page,
                                                                                    now another.

My chin rests on my hands, which are flat
            & stacked on the table.

            I watch his pencil dance
            from pencil level.

My brain’s a curvaceous 1940s Chevrolet ennobled with chrome, sailing
                                    at a stately rate
                                                down the right lane of the highway.

Other drivers peer as they pass: Who’s in there?
                                                I’ll brush my teeth in my sleep.


                                                I’m gonna dream infinities,
                                    adjustable as seatbelts.

Relentlessly we roll towards one, a horizon,

                                             cruising ever onwards, speeding-a-
                                                                                                speeding away—

Ode to the Brain

Two perforated shells from Algeria
          might tell us what
                    our brains were thinking 80,000 years ago.
          Symbolic cognition: or was its birth in Blombos Cave

South Africa, geometric shapes engraved on sea stones
          rubbed flat, a row of variously sized Xs.
                    Pattern containing meaning.
          Science keeps me from sleeping.

I sit up all night on the spent couch, my book a neon blur
          of highlights. I see myself on a dig
                    pecking at embedded fossils,
          maybe a mandible with plaque

microbiologists can read by means of chemistry,
          genetics, whatever those magicians do.
                    This thought of human thinking
          rooting back those aching years gives me—

what is it . . . faith? consolation?
          The fact our species stretches back so long, so far,
                    implies we might grip Earth a few score more
          millennia before the robots overtake us, hybridize

our once-in-a-universe minds.
          All those cranial wrinkles making surplus real estate
                    for thinking, cramming in our pricey wiring,
          all the energy it takes to run our symbol-making brains.

The smaller my age whittles me, the more I’m smitten
          with a bigger picture, how this species lets one thing
                    stand for another.
          Viva symbolic cognition. Language: art:

poetry. Viva pattern, containing meaning. Viva you & me.

Kathleen Winter is the author of two poetry collections: I will not kick my friends, which won the 2017 Elixir Poetry Prize, and Nostalgia for the Criminal Past, which won the 2013 Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush Memorial Award. She has received fellowships from the James Merrill House, Dora Maar House, Cill Rialaig Retreat, Vermont Studio Center, and the Dobie Paisano Ranch. Her poems have appeared in New Statesman, The New Republic, Tin House, Gulf Coast, Colorado Review, Volt, Poetry London and other journals.​