Issue 125 |
Winter 2014-15

Three Poems (Emerging Writer's Contest Winner: POETRY)


In poetry, our winner is Rosalie Moffett, for her poems, “Why Is It the More,” “To Leave Through a Wall,” and “Hurricane, 1989.”

Ploughshares’ poetry editor, John Skoyles, writes: “Rosalie Moffett’s poems are thoughtful and wise, dramatic and stunning in their perceptions. She handles huge issues (God’s place in the universe; a lost twin; a mother’s injury) with fresh strategies. That she can end an emotional poem with an image from a cartoon, and make it movingly effective, is a testament to her craft. Her poems make you want to say them aloud, to declaim them—to see what it’s like to be her speaker. She has created a world that beckons the reader, not only to enter, but to enter and leave transformed.”

Rosalie Moffett received her MFA from Purdue University, and is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She is the winner of a “Discovery” / Boston Review poetry prize, and her poems and essays have appeared in AGNI, The Believer, FIELD, Gulf Coast, Tin House, and the anthology Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets. She lives in Oakland, California.

“My family is made up, mostly, of biologists, and my mother is a neurologist,” Moffett writes. “Sometimes I think that the poems I’m writing about her brain put us on a convergent course; she progresses in her knowledge about the nervous system on one path, and I progress on another. I don’t know what it will be like when we meet up. I suppose one hopes (if one has hopes for heaven, which I vaguely do from time to time) that that’s what heaven is: all the different methods of thinking and knowing intersecting. Poems, I think, are little efforts in this direction.”



Why Is It the More


     Syria Civil War Scars Captured by Satellite in Space
              —NBC News Headline

           I see of the world—heavenish
periscope of technology—the less
I can imagine God
                          intervening. Isn’t it right to think that
given the whole thing at once,
we’d make out
                          some pattern we’ve been so far
too small to see? Flying out of Spokane,
the hills I grew
                          up in become doubtless
ripples, left behind by some giant
iceberg. That’s what
                          I mean. To see the hand of the giant.
I’m sure there is someone
close by to tell me this
                          is ill-guided. This hope, this wrong
way to go about it. That no
matter what you think
                          you see you never
grasp the scope of what we’re doing
to each other—
                          or undoing, or praying in our colorless
prayers. That is the muffling of being
small and human
                          and prone to peace
of mind. I don’t understand why I give myself lectures
like this, the someone
                          I’ve imagined nearby for this sole
purpose does not look like any God
I know or one
                          that shaped an earth.



To Leave Through a Wall

Twenty-five years ago in Galveston, Texas: helmetless,
my mother fell backwards

off her bicycle and hit her head. A hurricane
struck, tossing some cars

into the ocean. Everyone evacuated
while she waited in the hospital, wondering what

was the word for that, again? To empty a town. The names
of her children straggled back to her

city one by one while on the top floor
of a Dallas hotel, we watched Inspector Gadget’s

fingers turn into flashlights. We knew
we fled, in heavy traffic, a storm

but not that we had been cast out
of our mother.

Anyone can pass through a doorway.
I always wanted to leave

through a wall, breaking
cartoonlike, a perfect body-

shaped hole. This is the only way,
isn’t it, to know how to return exactly

to the same place as
the same person.



Hurricane, 1989


It’s as if all the roads between a thing

and its name dissolved. Texas 87 was washed
into sand, entirely. Our flimsy rented house

was intact, the little yard leaping with fleas, just

as we left it. She was home. She looked the same
but you could watch her feel

around for a word, as if along a wall

for a light switch. We waited
at stop signs: empty intersections, blank, whole

minutes passing. The brain has to beat down

new paths. Uncanny: highway
87 never was rebuilt—too close

to the gulf, to the rising water. And now She is

losing her marbles is how
my father puts it. His way

of not looking. (Of looking so

at it.) We have in our hands what
the MRI made of her

brain: something like a sliced loaf of bread.

I examine a piece, having nowhere
to put it: my mother’s machinery, intricate map

of white lines, one where I must

in some form, reside. I don’t immediately see
any soft spots—The Specialist,

pointing, hopeful—where we look
at memory. But I feel

very soft, or I hardly feel at all.