…hysteria is the nosological limbo of all unnamed female maladies.
It were as well called mysteria for all its name teaches us of the host
of morbid states which are crowded within its hazy boundaries.
–S. Weir Mitchell, 1875
Theory is good; but it doesn’t prevent things from existing.
–Jean Martin Charcot, 1886
She does not have to go to Paris to see such women,
their wishbone spines, their joints like hinges;
she need not visit Salpêtrière, that mad museum,
to know such twinges are not meant for image.
Such grim pornography should not be caught by lens:
the stifled moan, the clenched appendages.
A photograph makes Now anachronism.
Even soul is sacrilegious.
Such monsters as Charcot imprisons
are but mere girls beset by midges,
those paramecia of spectral regions
that torment seers (Mr. Sludges,
Katie Foxes, and other mediums,
who are receptive to the fringes
where diffraction gives dimension
to what isn’t yet). Messages
afflict the mind with movement;
bodies jerk with thought, phalanges
claw as if to elaborate. Delirium
sanctifies, illumines. Outrageous
as it seems, such attitudes passionn-
elles (mockery, threat, erotic rages)
are commonplace. Such crucifixions
can be staged in sitting rooms. Judges,
doctors, and other wise and condescending
men can gather there to gauge
epileptoid tendencies and other forms
of criminality. Perhaps, these mages
with their forceful gazes can gain
some insight into transference, stages
of materialization in which emotions,
like lightning or swansdown, flung,
thrash or settle visibly around
medium and sitters as if to presage
apocalypse or rape. Our Lady of Scorn
surveys these Ledas, these disarranged,
but hopeful ingenues, who, half-feign,
half-suffer the pains that plague
them. If Charcot could name
her monsters (her humors fledged),
would he dub them figments
of sexual frustration? The hob as grudge
or bile personified? The scritch intent
as sinew, relieved of skin, viscera drug
into the open? The vesperbird, a wren
carnivorous, a viper vicarious? If purges
cure hysterics, can trances, then,
still passion? She does not need a pilgrimage
to Paris to give her answers. Perhaps, in-
voluntary demons, like other surges
of energy, can be harnessed, given
uses. She imagines all the scourges
such indignities might wield upon
the genus skeptic, expert scrooges
who, invited to observe her séances,
might find themselves beset by urges
that could not be hypnotized, or crammed
in jacket, or yoke. What violence might impinge
on arbiters of sanity and conscience
if gargoyle ghosts turned jurisprudent!