Nervous System

Rosalie Moffett


            Terrifically alone in tulips

                        the rain made of the South China Sea

            I swam toward a tiny island scrimmed with washed-up coral


                         and purple shells.

            I saw how many perfect ones

                        waited for me. Giddy,


            ashore, I pawed through them, straightened up

                        only when my hands were full. It was

            like realizing I’d put on someone else’s jacket


            by accident. The joy was not my own.

                        My mother was the one

            who could never leave


                        a beach without a box of shells—

            she found the hard armor

                        of small creatures


             irresistible. Eerie, perfect, the certainty           

                        that my delight was hers,

             grafted on to me, sewn into me.




            Spiders have what is called book lungs

                        so words make up a life

            -stuff, a kind of atmosphere. 


                        What the brain breathes.

            New words opened new rooms of myself

                        to myself. To hear her say aphasia


            inhibiting the production of language

                        swung wide a door to a black hole

            my mind inched away from.




            No one will go looking for bits of me

                        in my mother’s brain,

            though they’d find them. We know now


                        how, in the womb, the fetus releases

            some manifold cells into the mother which travel around,

                        fixing things, taking


            on necessary jobs. They transform

                        into cardiac cells

            or neurons, perform a patching-up


                        of what they find. A kind of miracle

            product you might see advertised on TV

                        in another dimension.


            Chimerism, this is called, though physiology hardly needs us

                        to translate it—it just is what strikes

            as metaphor, as familiar. I will


                        whatever of me is in her

            to wake, seed my joy: a need for words,

                        urge to collect the ones


            that seem in the mind

                        like pieces of armor.


Rosalie Moffett is a writer and teacher from Eastern Washington. She received her MFA in poetry from Purdue University and has been awarded the Discovery/Boston Review prize and the Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Her poems and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Believer, FIELD, NarrativeKenyon ReviewAgni, Ploughshares, and other magazines, as well as the anthology Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets. She lives in Athens, Georgia. 

Photo by Erik Westrum