Bruce Beasley


Like Unto a Merchant Man Seeking Goodly Pearls

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who when he had found one 
pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
             –Matthew 13:45-46

The most beautiful pearl is only the brilliant sarcophagus of a worm.
–Raphael Dubois


Some mother-of-pearl icon of undesire:
lead Buddha jammed deep into an oyster’s
pried-open valves to make it secrete
spherical layers of overlapping nacre
in the shape of that placid, bloated intruder,
like a larval fluke of great price, jewel-interred.

 “A derangement of the mollusk’s normal state”:
the pearl sac’s iridescence against the grit
of this boring-in and walled-off irritant,
some holy, unejectable foreign object
(the Torah’s word for holy means ‘set apart’).
The pearl-formation’s “pathological, not intelligent,”

defensive layers of the flesh-flap mantle’s
occult and all-concentric blister pearl
half-flattened, half-domed-over, hemispherical,
encysting in a thousand tiers the Buddha, internal-
leaden, quasi-parasitical,
sarcophagus splendid as a worm’s. The pearl

of GREAT costwhy get that? my son insisted,
Why not just pick out one that’s lower-priced
and save a little bit of money for food?



“I want to find that sweet spot, and go there,”
the neurosurgeon said, and planted four
electrodes deep-brain in each hemisphere,
the dura mater exposed through the burr-
holes into the skull to leave a stimulator
in pearl-sized brain Area 25, hyper-

agitant. Though the mechanism’s “incompletely understood,”
there’s still a “sudden disappearance of the void”
twenty seconds after switching on electrodes
with ‘spaghetti-sized’ wires through the mid-
brain, then what these melancholics have never had:
an unmistakable draining of their dread.

And so “this is a surgical strike”
the neurosurgeon says, with battery packs
implanted along the patient’s neck
to deliver through gold and platinum wires a shock
at frequencies and pulsewidths that de-black
the mind. The surgeon says, “This is a surgical strike”

–against apathy, compulsiveness, despair
that wallow overspiked in the whited matter,

electrified, unslothed at the perfect Hertz . . .



A derangement of the mind’s normal state: 
encysting in a thousand tiers its internal 
alien, obsessive, bored-in irritant, 

occult and all-concentric blister-pearl 
of depressive noniridescence against the grit 
of an anomie walled-in and parasitical:

pathological, not intelligent. 
The subgenual cingulate’s icon of undesire: 
like a great-priced pearl, enholied, set apart,

exposed by surgeons to watch it accrete 
in spherical layers of neurotransmitter nacre 
some new and overdoming hemisphere. 

If we could find that sweet spot, and go there— 
toward a sudden disappearance of the void— 
like Buddha pearl-walled in the Area 

called 25, that draining of the dread 
downspine from where it pools above the neck . . . 
Not to settle for imitation pearl, and food, 

but to deliver through gold and platinum wires a shock 
to Area 25, and zap at the right Hertz 
frequencies and pulsewidths to deblack 

the jammed-deep black-lipped oyster’s 
strange and incompletely understood 
brain-pearl’s brilliant sarcophagus, like a worm’s.


Strange, and incompletely understood– 
this apathy, compulsiveness, despair
accreting midbrain as though they could 

derange the organism’s normal state 
by some nacreous icon of undesire 
in conchiolin and aragonite. 

A sudden disappearance of the void 
when the surgeon finds that sweet spot, and shocks there, 
and says ‘This really is a kind of mind 

control”: these unejectable holy objects 
of electrodes buried in each hemisphere, 
till “suddenly they hit the spot,” the patient 

said (extravagant pearl, neuronal sphere of God) 
“and everything lit up.” Bypassing the four 
strange and incompletely understood 

gospels, parable-garbled, and antisoulants
that overspike all through the white matter 
and derange the disordered spirit’s promised state. 

Oh Kingdom of Heaven, Buddha in the mind, 
pry open my valves and make them secrete 
that sensation of a disappearing void. 

I’d sell everything I own, to seize on this: 
that imitation-pearl-walled leaden figure, 
that alien, unejectable holy object. 

Or that foreign and unknowable inner subject: 
a derangement of the psyche’s normal state 
by a sudden elimination of its void: 
strange and incomplete, but understood.



                              —fear of long words

Catechumens of forgotten maps,
We trace the tides’ pelagic origins

As if they were our own: at zero hour,
Tideshift, we’re borne somewhere between the Scales

And Lion, where the dulciana sounds
Its Miserere, vox humana

Of seabirds wailing like the just-been-born.
The cliffs close in around the claustrophile

Through the sea’s fricatives, black empty sails
Unfurling.  And some night-psychopomp

Guides us with rushlight downshore as though all
Our lucid dreaming were a kind of scat,

Sung.  The sea, the mer, the mare, as in
Nightmare.  Typhoid Mary Magdalene’s

Triple distilled liquor, tainted halo
And smelling salts.  Bloody Mary, she

Of impregnable meanings, twitches
Beside the reliquary of Guadaloupe,

nature morte in constant motion.
Defunct languages syllabicate

And invisibly scroll like an interleaf
Pasted in a Webster’s Dictionary

Appendix of undeciphered ancient tongues.
And all that’s left now must forever stay

Unrecallable, or at least
If remembered we can’t name it, sailing always

Toward the fallen ziggurats, chanting
Mnemonics we have so long longed to forget.



Bruce Beasley is the author of six collections of poems, most recently THE CORPSE FLOWER: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (University of Washington Press), LORD BRAIN (winner of the University of Georgia Press’ Contemporary Poetry Series Award), and SIGNS AND ABOMINATIONS (Wesleyan University Press).  His work appears recently in THE KENYON REVIEW, TRIQUARTERLY, NEW AMERICAN WRITING, and FIELD.

“Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliaphobia”is an experimental collaboration between Beasley and poets Robyn Bateman, Deanna Bernhardt, Nikole Blue, Katelyn Conway, Jessica Crockett, Patrick Darby, Rachel Foreman, Tara Giddens, Jessica Govan, Stephen Griego, Russell Jander, Lana Larson, Sharon LeBeau, Jory Mickelson, Alexander Peterson, Taylor Rowland, Ingrid Sagor,
Christian Saxton, Mara Steele, and Ariadne Weinberg.