William Say, “Three Sections of Diseased Kidney,” 1827
(“Coloured mezzotint after Frederick Richard Say for Richard Bright”)
(“Coloured mezzotint after Frederick Richard Say for Richard Bright”)
I went down by Cascadilla
stream below the falls,
and picked up a
kidney shaped, testicular, and
thought all its motions into it,
the 800 mph earth spin,
the 190-million-mile yearly
displacement around the sun,
of the galaxy with the 30,000
mph of where
the sun’s going . . .
—A. R. Ammons, out of “Cascadilla Falls” Uplands (1970)
PETRIFICATION of a Kidney.—When Father Harcourt suffered at Tyburne, and his bowells, etc. throwne into the fire, a butcher’s boy standing by was resolved to have a piece of his Kidney which was broyling in the fire. He burn’t his fingers much, but he got it; and one Roydon, a Brewer in Southwark, bought it, a kind of Presbyterian. The wonder is, ’tis now absolutely petrified. But ’twas not so hard when he first had it. It being alwayes carried in the pocket hardened by degrees, better then by the fire—like an Agate polished. I have seen it. He much values it.
—John Aubrey, out of “William Harcourt”
(Aubrey’s Brief Lives, edited by Oliver Lawson Dick, 1949)
. . . mark the sequel, Master Brook: I suffered the pangs of three several deaths; first, an intolerable fright, to be detected with a jealous rotten bell-wether; next, to be compassed, like a good bilbo, in the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head; and then, to be stopped in, like a strong distillation, with stinking clothes that fretted in their own grease: think of that,i—a man of my kidney,—think of that,—that am as subject to heat as butter; a man of continual dissolution and thaw: it was a miracle to scape suffocation. And in the height of this bath, when I was more than half stewed in grease, like a Dutch dish, to be thrown into the Thames, and cooled, glowing hot, in that surge, like a horse-shoe; think of that,—hissing hot,—think of that, Master Brook.
—William Shakespeare, out of The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602)
. . . They found in there,
in the human heart,
this tiny crucifix, this eye-sized figure
of tissue and blood.
Here are the penknife, the scissors. Here are the towels
they soaked the blood
up into, here the three kidney stones, the piece
of lung in the shape
of a bird, here the story the hurry like so and like
so, and the singing voices now that it’s noon . . .
—Jorie Graham, out of “Eschatological Prayer” (The End of Beauty, 1987)
. . . To doubt physics is to be
Self-ironical. Loaded with grace, I “fell through”
The headache system. The only truth is style is what
I was telling her—That feldspar causes fatigue
Like stage directions for a kid with one kidney, crestfallen
Or falsely upbeat, like on divorce weekends
With Out of Africa, the picture of the season . . .
—Jeni Olin, out of “Meryl Streep”
(Blue Collar Holiday & A Valentine to Frank O’Hara, 2005)
Has not some ox closed its great and downy eye, that she might fix an orb of disquietude upon her lover? Some fin, in dark water ceased to wave, that she, with beckoning hand, might take some gallant prisoner?
What rib could do that for itself which she has done? What kidney ever laid a nation’s dust, as lightly as she will lightly lay that nation’s dust, when that same kidney is relieved of its vain days of miring, by her reprieve?
Did ever brain of ewe fling a noose of desire beyond the next green leaf, until she raised it to a cast that brought down the stars, or turned a knot or two of it to trickery and treason?
—Djuna Barnes, out of Ryder (1928)
Oh, God, my kidneys and gall bladder, you’re cooking up stones: bezoar, calculus, calx!
Dear sweet God, let me fight your fire with flowers!
Give me the Torch-Wort, the Great Mullein, give me the Torch-Lilly, Flameflower . . .
. . . the feverfew will drive away fever . . .
—Paul Metcalf, out of Louis the Torch (1983)
Auto-chenille, destroy all bacteria in the kidney,
en-nombre-égal-aux-choses-à-expliquer . . .
La Science ne peut pas y consister. “J’ai
Obtenu une brulure” M. Curie, or some other scientist
“Qui m’a coûté six mois de guérison.”
and continued his experiments.
Tropismes! “We believe the attraction is chemical.”
—Ezra Pound, out of “Canto XXIII” (A Draft of XXX Cantos, 1930)
There’s literally no end to it,
to what they can do.
The proprietary virus
is throughout thy body—
Bio-Catalysm is the way to go.
Buy into it, it’s thy only hope.
Thy money will percolate
right into thy foot,
no more worries, no more waiting for thy boat.
No more dreadin’ o’ the Tijuana steroids
because they put screw-worms in thy kidney.
—Edward Dorn, out of “Proprietary Rights and Patented Germs”
. . . To weave Jerusalem a Body repugnant to the Lamb.
Hyle on East Moor, in rocky Derbyshire, rav’d to the Moon
For Gwendolen: she took up in bitter tears his anguishd heart,
That apparent to all in Eternity, glows like the Sun in the breast:
She hid it in his ribs & back: she hid his tongue with teeth
In terrible convulsions pitying & gratified drunk with pity,
Glowing with loveliness before him, becoming apparent
According to his changes: she roll’d his kidneys round
Into two irregular forms: and looking on Albion’s dread Tree,
She wove two vessels of seed, beautiful as Skiddaw's snow;
Giving them bends of self interest & selfish natural virtue:
She hid them in his loins; raving he ran among the rocks,
Compelld into a shape of Moral Virtue against the Lamb.
The invisible lovely one giving him a form according to
His Law a form against the Lamb of God opposd to Mercy
And playing in the thunderous Loom in sweet intoxication . . .
—William Blake, out of Jerusalem (1804)
Deaths, causes: tuberculosis, syphilis, dysentery, scarlet fever and streptococcal
sore throat, diptheria, whooping cough, meningococcal infections, acute
poliomyelitis, measles, malignant neoplasms, leukemia and aleukemia, benign
neoplasms, asthma, diabetes, anemias, meningitis, cardiovascular-tenal diseases,
narcolepsy, influenza and pneumonia, bronchitis, other broncho-pulmonix
diseases, ulcer of stomach and duodenum, appendicitis, hernia and intestinal
obstruction, gastritis, duodenitis, enteritis, and colitis, cirrhosis of liver,
acute nephritis, infections of kidney, hyperplasis of prostrate, deliveries and
complications of pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium, abortion, congenital
malformations, birth injuries, postnatal asphyxia, infections of newborn,
symptoms, senility, and ill-defined conditions, motor vehicle accidents, falls,
burns, drowning, railroad accidents, firearms accidents, poison gases, other
poisons, suicide, homicide.
—Anne Waldman and Ted Berrigan, out of Memorial Day (1971)
Hit you unless you come over to our table. All
I took was just a little to get me through the
evening, lentils, don’t they have Valo Shampoo
too, and you sit with your legs crossed and can’t
TALK for two hours, WHAT??, who’s heard from Michael
Rumaker, someone ought to write, cheese with cara-
way seeds, chutney, I LIKE DUMB PEOPLE—Jack Spicer,
macaroni and tuna-fish, kidney stew, waffles butter,
maple syrup, everyone was so Hungover and Joanne ate
FIVE pancakes for breakfast, it made me Sick, cream
of barley soup, I wouldn’t care so much if he just
weren’t my roommate, dried lemon peel, Navy beans,
prunes, orange juice, watermelon, cod liver oil,
I’m never going to North Beach again, candied sweet
potatoes, mashed potatoes, yams, cucumbers, You can
throw book ends at Harold Dull but you can’t get
away with throwing them at me POW!
—Joanne Kyger, out of “Poem for the Stomach Lined with Pills” (c. 1958)
. . . I sent Mr. Qwock some money last spring, with a request for some erudite teas. It appears that, when this letter reached Canton, he had left on a holiday in Central China, or in the moon, or wherever it is that learned Chinese go in the summer time. But on his return to his studies in the autumn he wrote to me and said that he had written to one of his uncles, who lives in Wang-Pang-Woo-Poo- Woof-Woof-Woof, and has been in the tea business for hundreds of generations. I have no doubt that in due course I shall receive from Mr. Qwock enough tea to wreck my last kidney, and with it some very peculiar other things, because I asked him to send me the sort of things that the learned Chinese drink with that sort of tea.
—Wallace Stevens, out of a letter to James A. Powers (17 December 1935)
Oblivious of my misdoubts, I fell under the spell of these Russians who considered all Americans lackeys dozing over their ulcerated middle-class newspapers, having nothing in their minds but the treacle and rot of motion pictures. After several weeks one who had been to a czarist military academy before the revolution lashed me with this observation: “Capitalism wears a man out before his twenty-fifth year. You’re as unhealthy-looking as a toad.”
His remark enfeebled me and I told him I had long ago dried up, and my legs were weak, but I was only an unmonied street Arab in the Amercan society. “You can find me in any sough, alley, spittle, or just dig me out of a cemetery. A muckhill orphan, I read, and swallow oil of niter or a dram of hellebore to purge a halfpenny of the petit-bourgeois in me. Sometimes I drink barley water to clear my kidneys so that I can think. Now and then I catch a capitalistic cold, but after I have come to my working-class senses I cough up the phlegm of any social ambitions I have. Believe me, I own nothing, am nothing and will never be anything but a miserable glut of nothing.”
—Edward Dahlberg, out of The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg (1971)
To bring the white of a whale’s eye made hard by boiling.
Whether the country be plane or mountainous: how the tides to ours: whether it raineth often, thundereth and lighteneth often: what winds most common.
What quantity of salt a gallon or any other greater measure of sea water affordeth, if taken up at flowing water.
What use they make of the stones or seed of whales.
To bring the bladder of a whale or morse, cleansed and dried so that it may be blown up.
The bigness of the stones and kidneys of whales, if not too big, to bring one dried, or one of a sea horse.
—Sir Thomas Browne, out of “Of Greenland”
“These queries were in all probability instruction for some friend, by whom
Browne was desirous of obtaining information respecting Greenland.”
It is Swedenborg’s theory, that every organ is made up of homogeneous particles; or, as it is sometimes expressed, every whole is made of similars; that is, the lungs are composed of infinitely small lungs; the liver, of infinitely small livers; the kidney, of little kidneys, etc. Following this analogy, if any man is found to carry with him the power and affections of vast numbers, if Napoleon is France, if Napoleon is Europe, it is because the people whom he sways are little Napoleons.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, out of “Napoleon; or, The Man of the World”
(Representative Men, 1850)
My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.
—Vladimir Nabokov, out of Lolita (1955)
Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horse’s necks,
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex . . .
—Dorothy Parker, out of “Bohemia” (Sunset Gun, 1928)
I suspect impurities adhere to their substance. I think acidity weakens the spleen, sugar expands the kidney, grief sours the lung and salts encrust the heart. I observe quick-silver trembling in the aludel. I watch menacing seeds sprout. And there is strange emptiness behind the moon.
—Evan S. Connell, out of Alchymic Journals (2006)
The morning is past and the sun remains but the sunlight is brighter. The study of painting is exhausting and the sea always gets larger—here I quote Tintoretto. Twigs are the many sounds of light. Could the prairie be this sea—for love. What I felt was that figs resemble kidneys.
—Lyn Hejinian, out of My Life (1980 / 1987)
“The coffee / drinkers answered / ecstatically”
Wednesday 13th June [11th]. . . . My brothers and I again went upon the water, and returned to dinner. We landed upon the island where I saw the whitest hawthorn I have seen this year, the generality of hawthorns are bloomless. I saw wild roses in the hedges. Wm. and John went to the pike floats. They brought in two pikes. I sowed kidney beans and spinnach. A cold evening. Molly stuck the peas. I weeded a little. Did not walk.
—Dorothy Wordsworth, out of The Grasmere Journals (11 June 1800)
If Heav’ns bright Torches, from Earths kedneys sup
Some somewhat drie and heatfull Vapours up,
Th’ambitious lightning of their nimble Fire
Would sodainly neere th’Azure Cirques aspire:
But scarce so soone their fuming crest hath raught,
Or toucht the Coldnes of the middle Vault,
And felt what force their mortall Enemie,
In Garrison keeps there continually:
When downe againe, towards their Dam the beare,
Holpe by the waight which they have drawn from her:
But in the instant, to their aide arives
Another new heat, which their heart revives . . .
—Guillaume de Salluste, Sieur du Bartas, out of The Divine Weeks and Works (1604),
translated by Joshua Sylvester
And then we have one unending, undeviating succession of junketings, in which “devilled kidneys” are never by any accident found wanting. The unction and pertinacity with which the author discusses what he chooses to denominate “devilled kidneys” are indeed edifying, to say no more. The truth is, that drinking, telling anecdotes, and devouring “devilled kidneys” may be considered as the sum total, as the thesis of the book.
—Edgar Allan Poe, out of “Charles Lever”
A review of “Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon.
By Harry Lorrequer. With Forty Illustrations by Phiz.”
(Graham’s Magazine, 1842)
You say that everything is very simple and interesting
it makes me feel very wistful, like reading a great Russian novel does
I am terribly bored
sometimes it is like seeing a bad movie
other days, more often, it’s like having an acute disease of the kidney
god knows it has nothing to do with the heart . . .
—Frank O’Hara, out of “Yesterday Down at the Canal” (1961)
no fool merely slow and the day comes we come to the day when stabbed in the arse now an open wound instead of the cry a brief murmur done it at last
with the handle of the opener as with a pestle bang on the right kidney handier than the other from where I lie cry thump on skull silence brief rest jab in arse unintelligible murmur bang on kidney signifying louder once and for all cry thump on skull silence brief rest . . .
—Samuel Beckett, out of How It Is (1964)