Friday, December 04, 2009

For H. M.

My day goes by in bits and pieces,
The crossword puzzle, conversations,
Doctors asking, running tests;
They seem to know me; I don’t know how.
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by as days do, I suppose,
I watch TV, play bingo, read…
Today the crossword is very easy!
I don’t remember when I moved here—
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day – I don’t recall yesterday—
A pleasant day, with pleasant friends,
I know my way through this house,
But I do not remember moving here,
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by in one-act plays
Old plots forgotten with the new,
I never know the actors’ names—
Each one is nice enough, it seems;
But who is that old man in the mirror?

Today, I’m feeling very tired;
I don’t know why—I’m much too young
To stiffly walk, to ache to move—
I must have worked hard yesterday.
I feel like that old man in the mirror.

As I write this, they are finishing up (just a couple more hours, perhaps!) the sectioning of the brain of H. M.. Henry Molaison, known to biology and psychology students everywhere as "H. M.", is perhaps the single most famous patient in history. Perhaps. He was studied for over half a century, from when he underwent psychosurgery in 1953 to alleviate epileptic convulsions, until his death last year. Henry had an extreme case of anterograde amnesia--the inability to form new episodic memories. He could learn new tasks, but would not know that he had learned them (his performance surprised himself!). He taught us, or allowed us to learn, more about how remembering works than we had ever suspected before. Abilities we thought as single were exposed as many parallel abilities, and not always the neat splits our introspective accounts may have predicted. (that may not be expressed well. It is late.)

His story has moved me more than I would have expected. I have written verse from the point of view of gods, but I cannot wrap my head around what Henry's life was like. I don't know that I would want to.

Anyway, if you follow the link above, you will see that they are looking for money. The goal is to make H.M.'s brain available to everybody--an atlas of the most studied brain in history. This is expensive. If you have any money left over after you have donated generously to my tip jar (fortunately, I am channeling H. M., and will not remember having written that), you should consider sponsoring some brain slides. And, just for practice, try imagining that you are living Henry's life. If you can get a handle on it, drop a note and let me know what it is like. I just can't do it.


Olaf Davis said...

What a nice poem - thanks.

Cuttlefish said...

Thanks, Olaf--

As I said, this one was strange and a bit difficult for me. I don't generally do non-rhyming verse, but for HM, I felt that keeping a rhyme scheme would be inconsistent with the man. I am glad you like it; I still think HM deserves treatment by a *real* poet.