Introducing a new series of poems by Julian Matthews. Julian is a writer and Pushcart-nominated poet published in The American Journal of Poetry, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Borderless Journal, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Dream Catcher Magazine, Live Encounters Magazine, Lothlorien Poetry Journal and The New Verse News, among others. He is a mixed-race minority from Malaysia and lived in Ipoh for seven years. Currently based in Petaling Jaya, he is a media trainer and consultant for senior management of multinationals on Effective Media Relations, Social Media and Crisis Communications. He was formerly a journalist with The Star and Nikkei Business Publications Inc
By Julian Matthews
I know I shouldn’t have signed that consent form
without reading the fine print at the bottom
When we friended each other, it was only because we had 37 mutual friends
All of them were poets, artists, creative types
She said she liked my words, and was curious about my right-brain
I didn’t think she meant that literally
When she asked whether she could “probe my lobes”,
I thought she meant ear lobes, not brain lobes
It sounded like a nerdy come-on, or perhaps she was just rhyming
I made a note to myself to look up “probe my lobes” in Urban Dictionary
When she said it would be “minimally invasive” and didn’t require anaesthesia,
she sounded professional like a surgeon
When she used the term “remote brain mapping”, I knew she was serious
Hell, I welcomed any kind of intimacy in this lockdown isolation
All I had to do was just leave my airpods on in bed at night,
and all she needed was my phone number
She’d call unobtrusively when the app I downloaded sensed I was asleep
I obliged, thinking this was a sciency, millennial way to hit on me
The first time it happened, I thought it was just a dream,
or tender head massage
The second time I felt it deeply, like when you stick a finger
too far in your ear and it itches and hurts
I heard her rummaging through my brain
She opened dendrite drawers she shouldn’t have
I sensed her reaching behind my cerebral cupboards
where I hid my stash of new ideas for poems,
my fragments of dreams
She squeezed my hippocampus so hard like it was the last bit of a toothpaste tube
and I felt some my saddest memories pop out
She had struck a nerve, cupping my inner trauma in her hands,
whispering over and over: “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.”
Once, as a teenager, I fell off my bike and had a concussion and they did
an MRI. It was so scary, like entering a high-tech coffin head-first.
But I felt none of those sensations from last night’s probe
This time, she was all in
She prodded my amygdala, my emotional centre
I felt her swinging on nerve endings, sliding down my synapses,
I could almost hear her breathing, hard, sometimes gasping inside of me
I have to admit it was a little exciting, my axons were titillated
But then came the chiselling and scraping,
like she was a fossil-hunter chipping away at my neurons
like a prospector extracting precious stones
or a palaeontologist on her final dig
I could sense some part of me was being suctioned away
I thought I felt her dragging bits across my prefrontal cortex
Today, when I woke up, I messaged her immediately to tell her to stop.
She replied flatly, almost too quickly: OK.
Had she taken what she came for and no longer cared?
Was my brain permanently damaged in some way?
I felt nothing.
Then I got up, pulled the curtain, and the sun streamed in
and my head felt lighter, and my heart filled up
like a thousand rainbows
First published in Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Magazine, Bali, Indonesia.