7th Nerve: A hi-tech medical exam draws its subject back to a more archaic, essential experience

Carol Rumens in The Guardian:

Bell’s palsy is a neurological condition resulting from damage to the seventh cranial nerve, and typified by partial facial paralysis and pain on one side of the head.

Show me your teeth. Can you lift your arms?
Try to smile. Close your eyes. Swallow.
Dive into the dark water. Lie still
while the machine passes around you
and a voice reaches you from another room
where music is playing.
Is it just that side?

…Creatures real and imaginary thread through the landscapes of Goliat, the recently published second collection by the Welsh poet Rhiannon Hooson. There are roe deer, feral cats and, in the title poem, endangered whales (Goliat is an oilfield in the Barents Sea). Gentle monsters and combination-species may appear – stag-boy, rat-boy, the occasional mermaid or faun. This week’s poem also engages with the magic realism of metamorphosis, despite its real and human starting point, a possible diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy.

Traditionally, the number seven has magical associations. Stanza one, at seven lines the longest in the poem, begins the transformative process. It is bookended by short commands and questions from an unseen medical practitioner to a patient undergoing tests. The voice is unnerving, the actions and answers required intimately connected to simple human existence and needs. Threat is established. But a new register enters the third line: “Dive into the dark water.” From this point on, 7th Nerve becomes a kind of duet, diminishing the clash between the voice of the medic and the voice of the speaker-to-self. Between them they alter the course and meaning of the poem.

More here.