A hand wants a puppet.
What a hand really wants
but cannot have is a mouth.
A puppet has a mouth, small
and ineffectual but nonetheless.
A hand that has a puppet
has a mouth, or access to one.
A mouth, on the other hand,
doesn’t want a hand.
If a mouth had a hand, it knows
the hand would cover it.
Then the mouth would need a puppet
with its throatless hand-hewn mouth
and its tiny malevolent fists.
These were her father’s last words: “I have a dread of chaos in my heart.”
Or, “I have a dread of the chaos in my heart.” The two others present―
her mother, her brother—and she later cannot agree. It was perhaps
a critique of the cryptic vehicles of concealment—symmetry and white noise,
city blocks and hinterlands—she thinks now, as she watches her son watch
a praying mantis watch a caterpillar. The caterpillar is famously playing
dead. Suddenly she wonders if her father is watching her
watching her son watching the praying mantis watching the caterpillar
playing dead. Windows within windows within something window-shaped.
“Kilroy was here” means he’s not anymore—a kind of geometry nobody
cannot configure. She imagines her father working, somewhere, in a factory
that churns out checkerboards, one after another, black and red,
ordinate and abscissa, drawing the axis between obsess and abyss.
Confess and confuse: there is a blind spot in her blind spot in the shape of
a heart in chaos, or chaos in a heart, red on black, or vice versa.
A house afire, or rather
his mother’s glass factory, actually,
and under the smolder the child Dmitri
understood that he would reject the 4 elements
of water, earth, air, and fire to insist on an order
no one else noticed, like a secret 27th letter of
the alphabet, a chemical koan. It would take
many train rides, his flesh (carbon, hydrogen,
phosphorous) pressed to the window (silicon,
oxygen) before he could dream chemistry
out of chaos and into a grid, and with the gall
of gallium, leave spaces for what was still
missing. What less could he do, a boy who saw
his father go blind, his mother lose everything,
a child whose siblings numbered maybe 13, perhaps
14, no one knew which (but the sum is the secret
27), number of the element cobalt, which
Mendeleev in his table (less manual than mandala)
switched with nickel, seeing, despite atomic weight,
to which family it truly belonged. Once he’d deciphered
the hidden matrix of matter, codex for the elixir of
existence, once he’d proven there are no spare parts,
he set out to show it’s all spare parts. For refusing
haircuts and trimmed beards, for riding with the
peasants in 3rd class, for marrying 2 women
at once, even the czar forgave him. The chaos
he’d once chastened he now chased, his own
odyssey of periodicity, a conservation of
confusion. A mind this aligned must be
ransomed by entropy eventually: every fact/
(ory) is finally equal parts glass, equal parts
fire, which is to say: all fire, all beginnings.
*Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) was the discoverer (or inventor, depending upon your viewpoint) of the Periodic Table of Elements. In fact, several scientists developed similar tables of elements around the same time, but Mendeleev’s insight in using his to predict the existence of elements that had not yet been discovered (among other insights) made his table the most widely accepted and praised. The form of this poem (the eight-line stanzas and the periodic format) echo the “Law of Octaves” expounded in an earlier arrangement of elements by John Newlands, as well as Irving Langmuir’s later octet theory of valence. Other characteristics of the Periodic Table are embedded in the format of this poem.
Jessica Goodfellow‘s book The Insomniac’s Weather Report was awarded the Three Candles Press First Book Prize. Her poetry chapbook, A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland, won the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition. Jessica’s work has appeared in the anthology Best New Poets 2006 and multiple times on the website Verse Daily. Her poems have twice been featured on NPR’s “The Writer’s Almanac” hosted by Garrison Keillor. She is a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal. Jessica’s work has been honored with the Linda Julian Essay Award as well as the Sue Lile Inman Fiction Prize, both from the Emrys Foundation. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jessica lives in Japan with her husband and sons.
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