Thirty-Seven

Sue Goyette

copyright ©Sue Goyette, 2013

According to our scholars, the newly birthed Milky Way
was rhinestoned with souls, which proved the soul’s

existence. The lifeguards, when asked, said they’d tasted
the hard candy of the soul when they tried reviving

an ocean victim. But we’d always been suspicious of souls.
We knew they could escape because we often heard

their hooves, the slap of their tails. They’d wander off
at night and when we’d wake, we’d feel emptier,

our great finned souls swimming against the current
and further away. We’d cover our mouths when we laughed,

when we yawned. Once they broke out, souls were just a nuisance
to coax back. There was a trap of words the poets had sugared

and we’d take classes to learn how to enunciate without sounding
desperate. When they returned, we’d have to swallow our souls

like the pit of a plum or a vitamin. It could take several days
to feel enriched, to see the sky in the puddles again.

Notes on the Poem

In her 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted poetry collection, Sue Goyette creates a singular character, with distinctive presence and personality, out of an unlikely entity - the ocean. The poems of Ocean depicts the eponymous subject as, by turns, feisty, mischievous, threatening and mercurial. When she takes on something so immense with such imagination and verve, it's not surprising that she can work similar poetic alchemy with the soul. As the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize judges observed in the citation for Ocean: "The ocean is its own character – or characters – a pet, a starlet, a dragon, a pacing old man." Those are rather unusual symbols for or depictions of the ocean, don't you think? This set of guidelines for using symbols in visual communications prefaces its examples with the contention that "some symbols, ... have become so ingrained within our cultural sphere that they carry an almost universal meaning." The guidelines go on to reference the butterfly, fire, rain, darkness and witches as symbolizing souls or aspects or states of one's soul. While readily recognizable, could "so ingrained" also mean that using those symbols could render a piece perfunctory or cliché? Well, we don't have to worry about that with this poem. Goyette depicts the soul as everything from rhinestones and hard candy and a creature with hooves and slapping tails to a creature with fins, a wayward nuisance and something to be regained by swallowing it "like the pit of a plum or a vitamin." By referencing the less likely, the more unconventional, the unexpected and even revelatory, Goyette makes the mystery of the soul somehow less elusive, perhaps something with which we can be less intimidated and can come closer to understanding.

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