Five Poems

August 2, 2019


(Resisting [Forgetting) Resisting] 


The Japanese character forget 忘 stacks

the character for to die 亡 atop the character

for heart 心. Die over heart.


                                                not detour over cinder

                                                not mirage over maze


This is what I’m thinking when you tell me

to forget about what’s happened,

to put it down and walk away.


                                                not hex over hunger

                                                not suture over echo


You think of memory as iron lung, a metal womb

meant to be outgrown—its vacuum-born breath,

its speech granted on the exhale only.


                                                not rogue wave over riot

                                                not eclipse over Easter Island


You want me to lay the past down

the way a deer in late winter

lays its heavy antlers down.


                                                not driftwood over doomsday clock

                                                not flute over tiger


Listen: in all the mammals of the earth,

the antler is the fastest growing bone.                                   

Not unlike the past.    


                                                not graveyard over graph paper

                                                not nebula over refugee


Memory compared with forgetting—

the distinction is only temporal—as in

disappearing versus vanishing.


                                                not refugee over nebula

                                                not graph paper over graveyard


Tonight, reading Kelly, Hass, & Whitman,

if in the throes of forgetting, I might not

have noticed in each of three poems blackberries.


                                                not tiger over flute

                                                not doomsday clock over driftwood


Blackberries, found with millet in the stomach

of an Iron Age bog woman—

we have always eaten blackberries.


                                                not Easter Island over eclipse

                                                not riot over rogue wave


We have always eaten blackberries,

our tongues stained black as omens

we’ve always remembered or forgotten.


                                                not echo over suture

                                                not hunger over hex


Or, to be accurate, we’ve always remembered

and forgotten—a water strider’s frantic sketches

on the surface of a pond.


                                                not maze over mirage

                                                not cinder over detour


Is remembering a kind of mastery, or

is forgetting? You & I & the Japanese agree:

not heart over die


                                               nothing under heart

                                               nothing over die




Note: ‘Metal womb’ is a description of the iron lung used by Larry Alexander, polio patient, 1954.








How much sun

a plot of land gets

is a matter of slope

and aspect. Bruise

of blue thistle &

apocalypse of poppies

depend on ratios

of nature in cahoots

with serendipity.


Thus the sun keeps

her bargain with

every living thing.

But gravity goes one

better, keeping faith

too with what isn’t

animate. Or so

says the sister

of Sisyphus.


Before gravity

gets its grubby hands

on them, tears

are first perfect

spheres, and not

the famous shape

that appears

on the cheekbones

of prisoners. 


But tears left out

in the sun long

enough leave only

a trace of salt.

Or so says the sister-

in-law of Lot. No stray

equations, no looking

back at the patch

of blue blue thistle.    


Everything is just

as it should be

is what has always

been said. At least

by prisoners of gravity,

falling from skull-shaped

hills onto hill-shaped

skulls, or so says

the sister of Iscariot.


Meanwhile planets spin

spherical as unfallen

tears, strung by ratios

of gravity and sun.

Is everything where

the numbers say

it should be? Everything

minus one. Or so says

the sister of Icarus.









a fog machine


the way wind draws Turing patterns in the desert sand


                    out of chaos less chaos


                                              humans seeing human faces in tree bark & on toast


          cosmic hypertext


that everything is connected or nothing is:

                                                                           that these are the same conceits


                    that fog machines are countable while fog is uncountable


          that lightning strikes the planet an estimated 100 times per second


                                                                                and is countable


chalk under an electron microscope all lacy spheres of ancient plankton skeleton


                                    everything is wreckable but microscope in

                                                                                                               & pattern


telescope out &



                                   while in the middle—here—a distinct lack of patterns


                        that ancient plankton didn’t observe their lacy skeletons

                                     didn’t know anything about the white cliffs of Dover


                                                                                         in the meantime syntax


                                                                                            in the meantime wind


& fog through which we wander looking for a machine







The Logician’s Jigsaw


My  favorite  paper  is  graph  paper—

it’s regularity, its possibilities.


My least  favorite  graph  paper  is  the



When   someone   speaks   of   a   map,

they   also   mean   a   key—not  a  key

like the  legend  of  the  map,  but  like

one  of  a  ringful  of  ragged  keys  for

opening what is locked.


For  example,  the  key  might  open  a

legend—the   kind    made   of   words

spilling out  of  the  past   and   into   a



Your mouth a boat made of teeth.


Your   teeth   a   row   of   small   white

squares like graph paper cells.


I     am     besotted     with     geometry.

Graph     paper     is     my     hallelujah

palette.   I   draw    curves    that    ever

approach      the      axis      but     never



Asymptomatic    is    the   calendar,   row

after     row,     page     after     page—a

proliferation    of   cells,   a   cancer   of



Where    is   the   map   for    the    boat

made of teeth that is your mouth?


Everyone   has   heard  the  legend  of

prisoners    in    their    cells,    passing

time, asymptotic.


A calendar is a boat made of teeth.



Everyone    knows    the    legend    of

monks   alone   in   their    own    cells  

singing parallel hallelujahs.


A calendar is no map.  It  has  no  key

to   open   with    its    jagged    broken

teeth what is locked.


A  week  is  a   row   of   small   white

squares bare as prisoners’ cells.


I fall asleep  in  one  locked  cell  and

wake  in  the  next,  but  never  again

do I wake next to you.


A legend   from   geometry:   parallel

lines   can    never   cross,   not   even

infinite parallel lines.


;If past/present/future,  as  physicists

suggest, exist all at once, why am   I

locked in this  monk’s  bare   cell   of



A calendar is a theater of  repeating



The   decibels   of    one     another’s

private   hallelujahs   are  faint   and

getting fainter.


The logician requests that  you  put

these stanzas,  these  cells,  into  the

order  that  makes   most   sense   to

you, or in the order that brings you

some small comfort,  as  you  never

get to do with the calendar.


Dusk and cover. Hallelujah.






An Inventory of Vanishing Points


All the clocks in the house are talking to the rain,

sotto voce, so as not to give away their secrets.

All the people in the house, wiping at their tears,

think they have something in common with the rain.


They don’t. If rain was sentient, it wouldn’t get anxious

over doing versus being, feeling versus thinking;,

body/slash/mind. All the people in the house pat the widow

on her shoulder, thinking they have nothing in common


with clocks. Ha ha, the clocks are laughing, but

the people don’t notice, so busy are they, pretending

the arc of their own lives isn’t shaped like the arc

of civilization: myth, math, moth. Rust and the end


of ritual, except for rain’s impeccable ritual.

Before she was a widow, when they moved to Florida,

people used to tell her, “If you don’t like the weather,

wait a minute.” Now she knows this is what


the mountains say to one another regarding civilizations,

what the clock is saying to the rain about the people

and the house. But praise to the widow, to all people who,

taking the long view, can’t not see vanishing points, and still,


they look. There’s an artist in Japan who carves pearls

into tiny skulls. You can hold thirty or more, at one time

in your hand, like a god. Skulls as luminous as what you see

when you close your eyes and enter your own skull.




Note: The Japanese artist is Shinji Nakaba.





Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout (University of Alaska Press, 2017), Mendeleev’s Mandala (2015) and The Insomniac’s Weather Report (2014). Her work has appeared in Verse Daily, Motionpoems, and The Writer’s Almanac. She was awarded the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, and has been a writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Recently her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Threepenny Review, The Cortland Review, The Southern Review, and Best American Poetry 2018. Jessica lives in Japan.


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