Sheldon Lee Compton, The Thing about a Brain

Rosemary Bailey, Acrylic 5




The Thing About a Brain

A Ford F-150 is built to travel fifty miles an hour. It can go faster but consider fifty. The truck is built in such a way with certain parts so that achieving this speed is within the object; the potential for the act is always present whether or not it’s actually performing the act. There are people in this world who, because, in some cases, they were terribly injured, can be given any math problem and solve it in about two seconds on average. The injury didn’t magically enable them to do something they could never have done before; the brain, beyond doubt, had to have the potential for the act already in place, the parts placed in a certain biological harmony so that, when the injury occurred, the act could be done.

Sheldon Lee Compton


Review by Dave Mehler

I used to have a 1965 Ford F-150, and the person I bought it from told me to find and stay in its “sweet-spot” (which just happened to be about 55 mph). The quirky style and diction of narration is what lends this piece originality and flair: things like, “within the object” or “potential for the act” or “performing the act.” It’s a cross between maladjusted tech writer and sexual innuendo? This feeds directly into the theme circling around trauma, injury (and the suggestion of debilitation and dissociation), brain and “biological harmony” and functioning as a thing was designed and intended to. Little is said about joy, love or the spirit. Jesus talks about how we are worth more than sparrows. How about a 1965 Ford F-150? It might be worth more to a certain person because if you drive modest speeds, put gas in it, and keep replacing necessary parts, a machine will make few personal demands and run forever. People are just WAY more complicated.


Review by Jared Pearce

While I dig the fun parallel between the brain and a Ford F-150, what I like best is the flip toward the end.  Early, while discussing the truck, the truck’s potential is always there, ready to be released; later, talking about the brain, the poem shifts.  The change is that the release of power, of ability, is not inherently there, or so it seems, but that the change occurs because of injury.  The idea of fallenness, of injury, of the human capacity to use incapacity to create strength and power is what draws me to this poem.


Review by Keaton Studebaker

I was drawn to this poem’s matter of fact tone and the concreteness of its metaphor, which I interpreted as: similar to how a Ford F-150 is capable of traveling faster than fifty miles an hour even when it is not doing so, there is something about the composition of the brain that makes it capable of solving math problems in about two seconds even before an injury makes this capacity manifest. In other words, it is not simply the contingency of an injury that brings to the brain the capability to quickly solve math problems; rather, there is something necessary to the brain itself that makes it possible for the injury to make this capacity manifest.

I like how this poem offers an opportunity to draw out the metaphor, and in so doing, also provide space for us to recognize as ourselves the ones making the connections between the truck and brain. In this way, there is a kind of reciprocity between what the poem describes and does. While the metaphor deals with the latent capacities of the truck and brain (this being what the poem describes), in providing a metaphor for readers to work through the poem offers readers a chance to recognize something latent about themselves—such as our capacity to use metaphors—that might otherwise pass unnoticed (this being what the poem does).

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