Because Basil’s right-side weakness is getting worse, I persuaded him to see a neurologist. His first neurology visit since teenage episodes of seizures that stopped well before he went to Black Mountain in the 50s. And well before there even were MRIs.
He had an MRI a few weeks ago and my jaw dropped when the doc showed us the image: On the right side is a large dark spot, signifying nothing. Meaning there is nothing there, nothing but spinal fluid. It’s big: 4.9 x 2.8 x 5.2 cm, which I translate to about a third of the right half. In the area of the parietal lobe mostly. Either gone or never was. The doc speculated a prenatal stroke or, more likely, as Baz was told of birth injury by his parents, caused by a critical oxygen loss during his delivery by Cesarean.
Important to stress: this big black nothing is called an arachnoid cyst; it’s benign and stable. Been there all his life. Alas, the increasing weakness turns out to be just old age and the remedy is the same as it is for everyone: just keep on going on. The nerve damage caused by the cyst is responsible for symptoms Baz has had all his life: a weak underdeveloped right side, a twitchy right hand, a slightly lopsided gait. For most of his life he finessed the gait thing. Only people who were very attentive, usually people with some impairment of their own, ever noticed his right foot moves like a hockey stick. These days, it is further hidden because he uses a cane. The cane goes with his white beard and gets him seats on the subway.
There are some other things the cyst might have caused, but it didn’t.
In a way the biggest effect besides the physical ones is the feeling Baz has had all his life — that something in him is off. What a difference it might have made if we’d both known there IS something off. Something as tangible as a big nothing where brain should be.
On the morning before seeing his MRI he wrote this first stanza: all the rest followed in the days since then:
Mother of PearlMother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking Stonehenge Easter Island The stones the hand of a loved one Light persists and goes unanswered Brevity mothers the pearl And the pearl Eiffels and towers The Sistine ceiling fingers a man Transported to Grand Central Station He says he has never been to North America He is from South America and he has never Seen the sky depicted incorrectly * Pause Mother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking He says he and his brothers never Wanted anything to do with Spain He says the women didn’t like The Spanish beard their unwashed bodies He says he knows that half of The right side of my brain is filled With spinal fluid and I was deprived Of air at birth mother of pearl Did you know and never tell me The left hand never tells The right hand what it is doing Pause Mother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking He says he wants to walk with me I walk the city ride the Metro And I am given a seat I have a white beard A cane when I sleep I dream of Incandescent bulbs the cook serves Two eggs hash browns coffee A good friend once said I’ll take the literary world You take the art world I didn’t and art never thanked me People who have been picked on Think they have the right to say My survival is all there is And fuck everybody else Pause Mother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking He says he doesn’t understand my paintings He says I put too much into them He says Muscles and Triangles are incompatible He says I create a disturbance when I want to put my hand inside of you For Love I want to squeeze your heart Nostrils lips falling rain A vertical arm angers my memory And I draw organic shapes diverse eyes Mathematics elongates the face Mother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking *From Wikipedia – On the ceiling of Grand Central Station “Orion is correctly and beautifully rendered, but the adjacent constellations Taurus and Gemini are reversed both internally and in their relation to Orion, with Taurus near Orion’s raised arm where Gemini should be. One possible explanation is that the overall ceiling design might have been based on the medieval custom of depicting the sky as it would appear to God looking in at the celestial sphere from outside, but that would have reversed Orion as well. A more likely explanation is partially mistaken transcription of the sketch supplied by Columbia Astronomy professor Harold Jacoby. Though the astronomical inconsistencies were noticed promptly by a commuter in 1913, they have not been corrected in any of the subsequent renovations of the ceiling.” Pause Mother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking I bought a new sketchbook the other day Clean pages Constable was right The clouds in England are lower than the clouds In America in America we have a Blue Sky no clouds No interruption but the continental flight Of linear men Oh, Mother of pearl I am an artist a voyeur I watch society men and women In Grand Central Station Pigeons dressed in their best Reimburse the stars Asparagus there is more Pause Mother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking He says he knows my nature is unpredictable Spring summer fall and winter The black hole in my head Can’t be allowed to possess The figure that fulfils intention My hand dipped in ink Pause Mother of pearl there is an Olmec head In my back yard and it doesn’t stop talking He says he knows what is best for me I should take my vitamins the A B C’s Of health is not to indulge But what if compromise forfeits passion Grey between black and white Tables engraved lines banisters A plate a glass a knife and fork A full set of teeth this stew Needs onions carrots herbs Measure the ancient crime The disaster of knowing The abused
Basil King, April 2014