Joseph Kidney

Career Day by Joseph Kidney

At Herbert Spencer Elementary, named 
for the man who coined survival of the fittest,
one girl with a notepad, suspenders, a trilby, 

had WRITER written on a white HELLO MY NAME IS.
The boys, who insensitive to pain often caused it,
ran around screaming objection objection objection

sustained. Noticing that nobody came as a teacher, 
Mr Winpenny said nothing, happy to be spared
ridicule even if it meant being spared admiration. 

Because they say the brain is wider than the sky 
I came to class that day as a neurosurgeon:
scrubs anemically green, smile and superior laugh 

implying scalpel, a gaze that swept across
the heads of my peers and saw nothing 
but German clocks. On a portable light box 

I clamped the silver-black film to hang 
with tomographic shavings of the intellect
as though it were soppressata. —This, I said, 

is the corpus callosum, the “hard body” 
inside the wet body inside the white body 
inside the soft body. And don’t even get me 

started on the heart, spasmodic bladder of blood  
which knows nothing, let alone love.— I saw
on their puzzled faces that a piece was missing. 

—Behold, I said— gesturing toward a steel dome 
whose mirror-skin, bending, both stretched and shrank 
the classroom, so one might think it was trying 

to stuff its environment under its lid. There, concealed, 
hid the secret labour of the previous evening: a brain
exquisitely moulded in gelatin, the deepest of reds

permitting the light like the garments worn by figures 
in a panel of stained glass, each of the mind’s convolutions
finely detailed, the structure firm, with a slight 

allowance for wobbling to simulate the activity 
of thought. One moment voilé, the next voilà 
as I raised the cloche like half a ringing cymbal

and revealed utter collapse: a kind of cubist rubble, 
semi-coagulated thinking that wallowed in its own 
expired glue, shattered to a puddle, the shallow red, 

the mind which force converts from divinity
to gore, spread on the platter like a dynamited trout,
and useless, unless, useless but for caution. 

Alison Goodwin on “Career Day”

Delightful. “Career Day” waltzes through tercets, its images layering to create rich and colourful metaphors. Who has not witnessed a wild hope or dream collapse? But here, voilà: the falling apart births art itself. Kidney’s “Shore Leave” a completely different sort of poem, was shortlisted in 2022 for this contest.


(update provided in 2023) Joseph Kidney has published poems in Arc, Vallum, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, PRISM, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (in Arabic translation), and forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry 2024. He won the Short Grain Contest from Grain, and The Young Buck Poetry Prize from CV2. His chapbook Terra Firma, Pharma Sea is available from Anstruther Press.

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