Book Review

The Insomniac's Weather Report by Jessica Goodfellow, three candles press, 2011. $13.95

Reviewed by Athena Kildegaard

Jessica Goodfellow's book The Insomniac's Weather Report won the Three Candles Press First Book Award. It's a remarkable first book that introduces a poet already white-hot with power.

In the second poem of the collection, “What You See If You Use Water as a Mirror,” Goodfellow begins “In Shinto, the eight elements / of beauty include impermanence / and perishability.” Over the course of the poem she mentions three other elements: understatement, mystery, and incompleteness, but, she says, “to learn the final three is to dishonor / the previous two.” If she names them all, then there is no mystery, and all is complete. And here is the conundrum of Goodfellow's book. It is filled with mystery and it leaves openings at every turn that honor incompleteness, and yet, this is a book, a finished book with covers front and back, which implies completeness, does it not? Goodfellow has lifted her pen from the page and left us these poems. That she solves this conundrum is one of the beautiful mysteries of this book.

The Insomniac's Weather Report brings together four sequences: “Uses of Water,” “The Insomniac's Weather Report,” “Flotsam and Jetsam,” and “Alphabet: Fugue:.” From these titles we discern two of Goodfellow's concerns: water and language. “All poems should be about water,” she begins the first poem. Water as movement, sloshing, water as force, a flood, water as the impermanent. She writes later in the poem, “Your father, showing you bamboo, / its straightness, said, 'Each segment / has a beginning, an ending.' He was wrong.” Water has no beginning, no end, she reminds us. Water, in effect, is incomplete and impermanent.

In the last poem of this sequence she writes about motherhood:

I had not counted on this:
the polygon of bearing
sons, I did not know you
would hold it against me,

the body, for its lack
of edges, its fluidity.
I did not know you
could not move beyond a thing

without calling it [m]other.

The body, being mostly water, is fluid and the mother's body is both other and self. The water-logged body is impermanent and perishable, and of course beautiful.

In the last poem of the title sequence, a prose poem, the insomniac is cured when he takes water into his body in the form of hailstones. He “gather[ed] as many as he could before they melted. The final few he sucked to make last, pretending their slide into water was his idea.” Transforming ice to water, taking that water into his body, replenishes him and sates him so that, finally, “He was cured, though it wasn't clear if eating hailstones had made him light enough, or heavy enough, to sleep.”

“Alphabet: Fugue:” is the last and longest section of the book. Here Goodfellow moves away from water to explore language, belief, and memory through the subject of marriage. Like a musical fugue, Goodfellow takes up her themes and puts them down, recasting them, trying them out in new ways. Images rise and retreat, so that on new occurrences they can be comforting or testy. Notice how the titles of the poems play with the idea of a fugue; here are the first five: “Fugue: motion:,” “motion: moon:,” “moon: map:,” “map: glass:,” “glass: trap:” and so on until the last two: “memory: alphabet:,” “alphabet: Fugue:.” And thus we return to the beginning. Here is a sort of incompleteness, since we are thrown back to the first poem in the sequence. And we want to return, to follow this fugue again.

From The Insomniac's Weather Report

rules: wind:

From the rooftop I see no one in the park,
no birds and no one whispering to birds.
Nothing except the wind—opposite
of gravity, shine of absence, everyday chaos.
A map of memory resembles nothing
as much as wind.

Like dropping my last coin in a bottomless well,
I whisper your name in the night. Wind, like memory,
has its own grammar: all objects, no subjects, no plurals.
What is “losses” except “loss” without an axis?
Wind counts backward and forward and is still
wind, doing nothing one by one by one.

For example, wind tugs at both ends
of this last strand of your hair my finger-
tips pinch like a hinge. A marriage is also
a hinge. A ransom, I let your last hair go
into the wind, into the ten thousand hands
that lose nothing or lose everything.

Athena Kildegaard lives in Morris, Minnesota, on the prairie. Her books are Rare Momentum and Bodies of Light, both from Red Dragonfly Press, and Cloves & Honey, Nodin Press. In her first year of marriage she lived in southern Minnesota and her husband in Chicago, and they traveled many times across Wisconsin full of eagerness.