Today’s poem is from Earthly Matters: biology & geology poems, published by The Poets Union.
And So Good Night
Curious right to the end, Lavoisier
ordered a friend to make sure to look close at his eyes
when the blade had just severed his head.
He told him he’d blink if he had any consciousness left.
Doctor Guillotine’s engine was quick,
and the head fell at once to the deck:
nothing there for the friend.
But it seems the story’s a myth,
circulated long after the death of the man who discovered
that air is a mix of the gases he named.
No, politics got him at length – that and shock
and the lack of O2.
The last thing he did with his eyes
was to stare at the basket, not blink: blinking
calls things into play that a corpse doesn’t have:
muscles working as well as the brain.
Who’s surprised that he stared? John the Baptist,
in similar straits, was just meat on a plate.
Like Lavoisier, he’d said enough to get into that state
and who can say what he’d have blinked?
Nothing we read says he turned to Salome, and winked.