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  • Jessica Goodfellow

Five Poems

(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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