Poetry: Jessica Reed

Selected by Hoa Nguyen as a finalist for the 2018 Omnidawn Revealed Identity Poetry Book Prize


Goldfinch, speaker in a [world] made intelligible
who not so much thinks as overhears thoughts
            as in a Bach fugue—emptied of semantic content
            no introspection         but still: unmitigated thought
                        (or at least what feels like thought)
arrow-pure as flying toward glass

            “Yes, that must be what happened”:
safe to infer         the goldfinch did not know
the windows were there         how easily we
            imagine its cognition         project
mistakes into its mind: goldfinch error!
            must have been seduced by the clarity
                        of two layers of windows,
            must have lit off for the raspberry bush
                        on the other side of both
or maybe it had only in mind a through-path
            as if, in flight, it could be without intention

Some of us are “really bad” at turning inside-out
            build bang-up models instead:
dew materializing on imagined grass
            the whole turf ‘saving the phenomena’

Do you also assume that reality has edges?
            Bounce x-rays off of crystals
modify chemical reactions         spot kinetic isotope effects
all so you can see         the structure of the unseen—
            all that hyperbranching and chirality
            in your molecular models:
a certainty in yellow feathers bright enough even for you

Right before I ran over the dead goldfinch
                        with the actual mower
its yellow reached up from the virtually material lawn
its gray bird-cavity sank into the notional
            in that instant for me its last
            phenomenological experience felt known—
a brief consciousness, interrupted

You regard the resemblance
of your models as provisional, you optimist—
            as if a mind, so dedicated,
could ever         get it right

                                       In the Presence of Western White

There exists a pine
(also: an entangled aluminum ion, a gene for limb-forming
            shared by humans and cephalopods, mushrooms
            whose spores travel on manufactured air…).

Say we bring these into being. Take the idealized
            generic pine at the base of your understanding
of all pines—the one you teach a child to draw, preferably
            against a blue sky. Whatever that looks like
                        for you us. The possible
and perfect as the a priori framework of the real
            (mass as secondary quality, Lodgepole and Jeffrey,
                        a relation between the apparent angular position of the star
            in Fig. 1-9 and the apparent direction of motion of raindrops
                        falling on the vertical windshield of a bus…).

I had the idea to conjure this pine first. You would prefer
I encounter some specific pine in reality, and
that the experience prompts me to render it, so that you can feel
you, yourself, have confronted a real thing in the wild.

            And so I went looking. Against the multiplicity
of pines on the hill I chose a gnarled thing, wounded,
            an accident, stunted by strange circumstances
                        of shade and pavement, bent extreme beside
the orderly fence—the furthest from perfect I could find,
            thinking that was the real deal:     unmitigated trust
in unmediated experience, high on sunshine and elevation, marveling
            at the way needles of conifers create  
a boundary layer of still air…. We have to ask, though:
            if the pine we have roped off in thought 

conceals composite particles whose existence
            consists entirely in (only) probable jumps 
            from one orbital to another— but then   
we would be confusing two worlds,
            that of the picturesque and that of the comprehensible.
We scale up, tame averages to arrive at five-needle clusters
            and long, thin cylindrical cones: enough, then, 
with its contours and defects, to perceive the thing?   

* Two realms, “of the picturesque and that of the comprehensible” come from Gaston Bachelard’s The New Scientific Spirit. 

Jessica Reed reading: Resemblance

Jessica Reed reading: In the Presence of Western White

Jessica Reed’s chapbook, World, Composed (Finishing Line Press), is a dialogue with the ancient poet Lucretius, who first explored atoms in verse. Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, North American Review, Bellingham Review, New American Writing, Waxwing, Pank, Exposition Review, Diagram, The Writers’ Café Magazine, The Indianapolis Review, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Omnidawn Revealed Identity Poetry Book Prize and a semi-finalist for the Cleveland State University First Book Prize. She has an MFA in poetry and a BS in physics, and has taught science poetry in Saudi Arabia and China. She grew up across the US, from the Mojave Desert to the Chesapeake Bay, and now lives next door to her parents in rural Indiana with her husband, solar panels, worm composting, and chickens. She currently teaches a seminar at Butler University on physics and the arts.