In the summer of 1844, novelist George Eliot went to London to have her head “cast” by the eminent phrenologist James Deville.
Twenty-two-and-a-quarter inches round:
a very large head. See the lift
of the jaw as it draws a line
from the white throat’s side.
This lady, average-height, is gifted
with moral weight. Here, the bold
curves at the cranial base
sweep elegantly to the crown.
My dear, excuse me. Raising her locks,
the temple is—ah—luminous and smooth.
A broad pause in the circuitry
where her wordflow is suspended;
each side a mold for the pad of my thumbs
to rest. What pleasant symmetry;
such dimples are fashioned to be touched.
Here, though, are resistant ridges,
imaginative nodes we might cite
as a novel development. Forgive me
if I ask: is she lonely? Does she cycle
between moodiness and joy?
There is a plain along the brow
where her spirit has retrenched.
We could call it a reversal; faith
translated back into empathy.
I thank you, Madam Evans. I will
present more work to the society
next month. Until then
I shall remember the heft
and swell of your skull,
the worlds within it, which
I am honored to glimpse,
by dint of my hands upon you—
the passionate snap of your book.