The Neurology of Love

There is something neuropsychological about love’s power to disorder us: The way the beloved increases in beauty over time, the way the sense of self expands to include another self. And then, when the love doesn’t work out, the neurons dump their neurotransmitters in a limbic tempest. To a neurologist unfamiliar with it, love might well seem a multi-system illness.

Astereognosis

      [a loss of the ability to recognize objects by handling them]

Starknowing. He places his hand in hers,
but she doesn’t recognize it. What was love once
is beyond forgotten now, is never having known
at all. Astereognosis, agnosis, No is
the only word her tongue recognizes
by its shape, four thorns and a nubbin bud.
Hands can forget shapes, and his,
in time, will forget hers—palmblind, unable
to tell her skin from yesterday’s breeze.
He closes his eyes, and this weightless edgeless
textureless something in his hands
may well be the night sky
on a planet orbiting
an unknowable star. This feels
unfamiliar, but so does everything,
for both of them. The shape
the silence makes between them
is either a love poem
or a love-poem-shaped goodbye.

 

Apophenia

      [the perception of patterns and connections where none exist]

Their minds were rhymes. But rhymes can rhyme by chance.
A rhythm, too, can hear itself where there’s
really nothing but the rain’s spondees
for the span of a day, the first day
he is alone, she is alone,
symmetrical, without connection.
Stand outside in the rain long enough,
and patter will give way to pattern.
What’s a pattern anyway, he wonders,
but the repetition of a mistake?
Fold the sheet in half, and any bloodstain
is a Rorschach butterfly. What
he’s done to her he’s done to her
again, again, but what it really means is,
he’s still in love. Replay
the footage of the burning car.
She’s still in love. Reload
her heart’s kaleidoscope with shards.

 

Prosopagnosia

       [the inability to recognize faces]

The mouth shape recognizably
a mouth, the eye shapes recognizably
two eyes, but seen together,
strange. She never thought she’d call him
a stranger to his face, but now her name
emerging from that mouth shape there
is Greek to her. The ancient tragedies
are always ending with anagnorisis,
the recognition-scene, in which the lover
proves to be the one person
the oracle warned you never to love.
Might this estrangement be
the least unhappy ending?
The actor has dropped his mask at last,
the reality beneath as unfamiliar
as the night sky over Delphi
riddled with stars
and a moon the face of someone
gazing past her
who even though she’s seen him
night after night after night
is no one she knows.
 

No is the only word her tongue recognizes by its shape, four thorns and a nubbin bud.

More: Poems

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