026.2: Kelli Anne Noftle:: Nomenclature & Take a Photograph of Us Here 026

If I could go back in time, I would have taken a minor in Biology. Why? Because biology gives us Latin, graphs, and specimens to understand the inherently incomprehensible: the otherness of other creatures. Kelli Anne Noftle’s poems could be called an enchanted science, seeking to reclaim the sense of wonder and weirdness lacking in more typical forms of scientific inquiry. Her work straddles a desire to know something absolutely and an equally strong reservation that no claim, scientific or otherwise, can entirely exhaust mystery from the universe. Noftle’s poetry is particularly enchanted with that moment of scientific suspension opening us into the infinite, if only in the form of distance. It is my empirical opinion that this is an experience worth reclaiming.

I grew up near the ocean. Walking along the shore, I passed by jellyfish, birds, clumps of seaweed every time I visited. These sights became normal: I learned to overlook them by expecting their presence, a passive acceptance. “Nomenclature” rattles me from this complacency. The call-and-response structure manages to stage several aspects of psychological involvement, from the inquisitive to the narrative. There are playful notes struck throughout the poem, as well as passages evoking a child-like exhilaration at tactile sensation: “The white part feels like muscle. The gray and black root feels like a stick”. “Nomenclature” ultimately doesn’t isolate the organism; rather, it claims all the associations, emotions, and names attached to its presence AND absence. The poem concludes with a wonderful series of terms, each suggestive of the distance this comprehension affords: “Cowrie, Keyhole. Bluebottle. Fissure.”

Noftle’s second poem in this selection, “Take a Photograph of Us Here”, runs on an anaphoric repetition of “Because...”. The litany that follows begins perhaps as a response to an assertion, but this response quickly gains its own velocity. The images and topics touched in this litany suggest a speaker driven by the deictic desire to assert even against the messiness of the sensuous world. Her final line, “Light cannot diffuse my answer”, harkens to the earlier obsession with Newton’s optic experiments and the chemical process of developing a negative; this assertion also outlines a beautiful but compelling reduction—the world is not entirely claimed by scientific laws, unable to “diffuse” the power of poetic response. Ryan Winet


All the other names for you—flatworm, cucumber, anemone, bootlace.

Found this animal recently hugging the north island rock. I have been searching for weeks with no results—

Hydroid, peanut, sea pen. Enter gorgonians, whips, branched creatures, starfish. I want to start there, drawing a boundary around the missing portion of your body. As a reminder.

You are curious about the dorid of circlet gills, but they are merely tentacles, for feeding—

Because you have another name I hold the rod to the sand, marking. This is your body, these are your parts. This is your scope. These are the tiny pools you belong to, your ancestors, your double sex.

Neptune’s Reef. There are two in what could be mating or feeding. If yes, what kind?

Like the objects in the corner of our eyes. You bristle, hook, shed. Break shell. Because the water washes out the shape, because I trace a map of your trajectory. Following the branch against loam, scraping out the letters to spell a word for you.

The white part feels like muscle. The grey and black root feels like a stick.

We see the shore is nothing but a line our eyes make, searching for a name where water ends and sand begins. I know don’t know what to call you. Spanish Dancer, Pajama Slug, Three Striped Phyllidia. All the underwater guides know nothing of you.

Each animal is a colony. Each stick-like feature is an anchor.

It occurs to me that I am counting each vessel. I’ve been counting since the daffodils, saffron. The thousands represent millions.

I have not seen anything like this.

Listing, crossing out, circling, listing again.

Can you give me some idea?

Dividing. Unspooling.

You have to start over. From the lake.

The tide, filling.

But, then. There is no lake.

All the other names for you:
Cowrie, Keyhole. Bluebottle. Fissure.


Take a Photograph of Us Here

Because public libraries aren’t public.

Because one dog eats another’s carcass.

Because light from a scene passes through a single point.

Because when color expands, it seems closer.

Because Avenida Revolución and empty bottles.

Because The Tropic of Cancer divides.

Because a man pays attention to proportion.

Because the mutt in the alley, beside its intestines.

Because this: a curled corner, stained sepia.

Because it’s never enough of anything.

Because I ask him to hold still.

Because he laughs at our reflection in the building.

Because green and white, covered in red

Can produce yellow, orange, or brown because

Theory became dogma because

During the 18th Century, Isaac Newton experimented with prisms because

Mixing anything with zinc oxide will not change the hue because

It would be incorrect to assume the world is “tinted” because

Jars and jars and jars of it because

Extreme red and purple lie close to crimson because

The ocean cannot contain everything because

Light cannot diffuse my answer.