Poem of the Week | December 09, 2013

This week we offer a new poem by Brianna Noll. Noll is a PhD candidate in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in the Kenyon Review Online, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Ninth Letter, Blackbird, and elsewhere.

Author’s note:

This poem stems from my interest in the commons, those things accessible to, or shared by, all the members of a society. Commons tends to refer to things like natural resources—water, soil, air—but in a more abstract sense, it also refers to language. Here, I consider the origins of shared language alongside the fear that our commonalities are growing fewer. Perhaps it’s not surprising, considering this line of thinking, that I’m also interested in choral poetry and the use of a collective, public (as opposed to private) speaker. I’ve been writing first person-plural poems for a while, but this is the first poem I’ve written that engages directly with notions of collectivity.


The Collective Unconscious

Some things have been with us
a long time, like the words spit,
fire, and mother, or the color
black. We are born with them
on our tongues, as we are born
knowing that haloed suns foretell
rain. We share the land and
the language to speak it, but
these commons grow fewer,
and we’ve stopped trusting
in lore. When we lie on our backs
and feel a flutter in our chests,
we know to sing to purge the air.
But who still believes that if I
conceive a child during the m
months of my thirtieth year,
I will bear a girl? Say nothing
of the strange accuracy of the
prediction—alone and private,
we doubt the contents of our
collective coffers. Look backward:
Anyone who’s seen a ligonberry
has named it for an animal: cowberry,
foxberry, bearberry, cougarberry.
This is the legacy we leave—
truths we feel in each other’s bones.