ELLEN GOULD
Poet Feature - October 2020

My background is in graphic design and I’ve long had the goal of being a “literary designer” (someone who both designs books and writes them.) I have always found invented worlds necessary to living well in the real one. 

I belong in California (specifically the Bay Area, where I was born) but grew up in Arizona.

 

I’ve always kept secret notebooks, but it was during a time of personal crisis about two years ago that poems started keeping me up at night, wanting to be written. It’s only during this pandemic, about four months into lockdown, that I felt fully ready to devote consistent time to the work and start putting it out there.

 

As I tell my kids when they giggle about naked statues, “Art is a free space.” Writing launches me toward the realm of unknown freedoms that I’ve always suspected was real. It lifts me out of my fearful little self and puts me back with extra oxygen. Writing has become an available frequency on which to answer back to everything that energizes me.

 

My deepest attachment is to Adrienne Rich. Her work is endlessly nourishing and unsettling and I admire so much of how she focused her life. Other favorites are Patti Smith, Ada Limon, Ocean Vuong, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Audre Lorde and Mary Oliver. And while she's technically a prose writer, I adore the poetry of Jeannette Winterson.

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FEATURED POETRY

modern dance

bitter pull 

of a voice rescinded

she meant to dance but

has only succeeded in 

shaking


convince her that this grand sham

hasn’t shaved the sides clean off her life

convince her this violence was necessary

because beneath the drape

she wasn’t fit


she shakes when she

can’t eat

she eats when she

can’t speak

she falls into walls

because

they ought to shake 

dry spell

Keep building cells until the honey comes

Each breath a grain of pollen 

parcels of air used and relinquished

Small, dry and insignificant     

But gather them, keep gathering   

      

What is offered may be only in the tiniest of vessels

But gather it

Be available for honey  


Impatient questions, six sided, amass

Cavities of doubt   

Lungs stiffening with hollows 

Where spent beliefs went unreplaced


Maybe in the end a drop will find your tongue

In answer

Flooding the last second with golden yes 

grand canyon

And I took my children there

to see what the river had done.


How many shades 

can the body of a mother conceal?


When her silver voice opened her chest

and escaped north

no ear survived the process

for eons passed,

her breath the only constant

as generations scarcely formed

fell into dust

dispersed on the wind of her singing

swept clear by her singing

and secreted back

into her opulent red folds.


She has many voices, none of which 

will cease. 

wildish
Where did you wander when there were no doors? 

On legs of shadow you moved 

to remain in existence. 

You circled the gardens from outside, 

howling your primitive odes 

to a clotting moon, still bleeding light. 

You left offerings of thorn that may alert me to my 

skin, its perpetual infancy. 


I was always being born without knowing 

how I’d catch myself. 

I was always seeking an axe to clear for you, 

to cleave my heart and there you’d be, 

startled but unharmed. 

Axebright moon, your subtle and silversweet edge 

let me in, 

to begin the long night of unwinding, 

untraveling old lengths. 

surge fatigue

Oakland, CA – September 2020

 

wincing skyward

parked cars all wood-cloaked

from ghost forest dusting down

unbreathable evening hangs all day

rings of newspaper stack and stop mattering

we are idling, the numbers mount

monitor the levels if you want a line to climb

a stiff horizon to keep sight of

 

I’m averting my gaze

from the slowest wreck

slowing as it escalates

compression and small fractures

relieving the strain as the climax refuses to arrive

screeching halt with long sustain

this isn’t a catastrophe I’ve entertained, rehearsed

(collapsing beams, arrested heart, loose bullet, snapping bridge)

but a horror so banal it can be strolled through

with a masked yawn, on a coffee run

 

words cling to each other, trudging on despite the blinding gaps

left there together in a ghost forest

by someone whose life wanted to surpass

its one container, to attempt extraction from the slow crash

speak of the door in the grass and I start to slide out

the bloodless old system is wheezing, maybe it’s terminal

but won’t succumb without the highest misery it can conjure to share

can’t cram it down the disposal without risking an arm

it won’t admit to the swallowing of us

along with everything else that was warm

 

might call the number cursed but it is sure

to pass its problems to the next one

here we’ll be, still captive to rank, each layer

formed by pressing those below

somehow the pressure is a drug

a calming vise

speak of the brain wider than sky and I

start to slide out

 

the vacant lots in town are its best places

if you can see the beauty in a scrapped plan

blonde bursts of grass in ruptured gray

defeated asphalt where field mice plot subdivisions

under hawk surveillance

and my children want fence cutters

because there is no threat of humans there

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