the lungs can grow flora             like a garden’s fertile soil look
             the way these blossoms burst                 
in wet caverns & catch the light just        yellow twists
& tendrils creeping into alveoli the body is beautifully invaded
your lungs became a desert though          didn’t they
a pulmonary garden too demanding & the lungs     offered all they had
                       i saw the desiccated skeleton of a small desert mouse
left bleaching in the sun            
             i feel it running around my brain at times or maybe not
                                                                                            that mouse but   a mouse           
its feet a raspy whisper persistent river reminding me
i ought to kill myself like when i am ordering lunch
& beneath my voice something echoes & oozes at the mouth       the nostrils       
once i vomited subterranean vapor behind a tree              can you explain this 

the lungs can be kept alive outside of the body the brain cannot
a thought experiment says with the right electrical impulses 
a brain in a vat would think itself embodied           reality is the culmination of perception
in theory i do not know if my brain is inside my skull or inside a jar     
             but i believe i have a body
             lungs & a spinal cord & hazel eyes           & if this i perceive is my consciousness valid
i told the doctors once about        
movement i track from the corner of my eye    
bugs i used to pull from my hair in the summertime 
    i was told sometimes what i see is not what exists 


i am not writing about how flowers can grow out of the skull 
especially if you first pack it with soil       John tells me to make space between my teeth
spit a seed & wait           eventually something will sprout 
by now i think everyone knows the story of phineas gage he survived 
an iron rod through the frontal lobe & lived for twelve more years     
some parts of the brain can be negotiable            he should have died but didn’t 
John was supposed to die & did               i am not yet 
but the brain is complex & easily disrupted            my mind whirs in constant repetition
a blink can sometimes unbalance me & i often have to remind myself
if i close my eyes i am still here     alone if i call myself a different name the integral parts remain
although chemicals can cause this to change     
            in the mirror she answered perhaps you are both
another theory says that the closer you are to death the more ghosts you will see          i should be
unsettled but they can travel through the veins    
one lodges in my throat & i am this 
i don’t mean to i tried to swallow down     this black fire / black ice / primordial matter
am i still             John says into my lungs 
belladonna is also called nightshade          & nightshade can stop the heart & can cause 
hallucinations & delirium            delirium is deeply tied to delight it’s a question of volume 
meaning noise meaning degree              meaning: stay

p o r t r a i t   e x - v i v o

​​H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L

B Y   E L I Z A B E T H   F O R S Y T H E

Elizabeth Forsythe is a poet living and writing in Chicago, where she recently earned her MFA in Poetry at Columbia College. While at Columbia, she served as an editor for the Columbia Poetry Review. Her poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming at After the Pause, Arsenic Lobster, Blood Orange Review, By&By Poetry, Tinderbox Poetry, and elsewhere.