John Wayne Gacy’s Autopsied Brain, Michael Derrick Hudson

John Wayne Gacy’s Autopsied Brain

was absolutely normal. No freak folds or
BB-sized tumor to exculpate

his crawlspace soul, just three pounds
of congealing gray flab zipped

into a freezer bag. Huh! Swindled again

and left with nothing but the schlock and
botched dogma of movie heaven

and hell: the villain’s skull sawn apart

until the scalpel releases a tiny sulfurous
lobster-clawed devil hunkered

down around his pineal gland
or hippocampus, some transcendent jot

of diabolical agency giving us the ghost
of a chance for damnation and

its terrifying clarifications, something to

sizzle the microscope’s lens
and scorch holes in the pristine lab coats –

For the love of God, call a priest! they’d

plead, until the haggard threadbare padre
stinking of gin and decaying

vocation limps into the laboratory where
their relentless science lies

smoldering on the linoleum, evil beggaring
the molecules and protein

and chemistry of their pitiful explanations…

Michael Derrick Hudson


Review by Rodd Whelpley

I live in Springfield, IL., where Gacy lived (and clowned) just before he moved up to Cook County. With every national news item about him – the identification of a recent victim, for example – there is the obligatory “Springfield angle” story in the local media, which always ends with an assurance that there is no evidence of Gacy murdering anyone when he lived here.

The newspaper obliges us: We crave reassurances that we are safe, have always been safe: That evil can’t happen here. That is located somewhere else – Crazy Cook County, or in the abnormal brain of another. Hudson’s poem exposes both the reality and the fantasy of that yearning, by offering a stylized parody of my local paper’s “it can’t happen here” narrative – but only after the more important three first three stanzas, where we see the autopsied brain is normal. There is no physical evidence to tell us why this man was evil. So the poem – just like we do – spends more space inventing a longed-for romantic fantasy, a supernatural agent in Gacy’s brain that neither science nor religion can explain. It’s frightening, sure. And we see the creaky, b-grade movie aspects of our myth. But we cling to the comfort of the myth, because IT isn’t US. And even a myth is better than no explanation at all.

Hudson’s tight poem turns back on itself with its criticisms not only of the limits of science (the “chemistry of their pitiful explanations”) and religion (“stinking of gin and decaying vocation”) but also of our very NEED to know how evil physically manifests itself, as if that knowledge would provide a shelter from it. If we can’t discover the “transcendent jot of diabolical agency,” we’ll make up some fantastical story, just so long as it means evil can’t happen in our “normal” brains or our normal lives.

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