It’s Just that this Floor is Dirty. And I Can Never Say Anything
The Filaments of Heather (Sad Spell Press, 2015) reads like a tightly knit horror tale. These poems have no individual titles. The narrative arc centers around a girl: Heather. Like the above line indicates, Heather cannot keep the floor clean enough, but she also is steadily losing her voice.
Goodrich chooses to make “Heather” the speaker in the poems. Since this is the author’s name as well, an immediate intimacy is created with the reader as we recognize Heather as author and Heather as metaphor in a new universe. (In this case, the universe is filled with dust and hair.) Trusting in her story, Goodrich can do whatever she likes with her Heather avatar. “Speaker” Heather loses her sanity to reclaim a sense of self.
We begin in a domestic box. Heather is barefoot, wears a frayed dress, and sweeps for three days straight. She wants to do little else. Our first glimpse into the speaker’s world: crumbs on the floor strung together “with strands of our hair,” onion coats, dried noodles, a bobby pin stuck to egg white, and outside “a chunk of heather cut the sky, making foothills hard to see.”
Heather is dismantled already— there is literally a chunk of her outside on the horizon while the other heather is inside enduring a tenuous stream of consciousness and cleaning a filthy house, or, her mind. Heather’s hands only reach for the broom stick. There is something meditative about this opening, with the repetitive motion of sweeping, but also foreboding. The act of housework is feminine and traditionally domestic but in Heather’s world, here are various quotes about her dress:
“My threadbare dress hits at the knees, and its fraying hem tickles my calves.”
“The frayed hem of my dress rips slightly, caught on nothing, but rips nonetheless.”
“Clumps of my dress fall off.”
It is almost as if Heather’s dress were alive. Not only is it a delicate symbol of her mental state, but it does not protect or shield her, as clothes are sometimes wont to do: it is slowly betraying her, leaving her more vulnerable to the elements and to outsiders’ judging eyes. Still, Heather sweeps meticulously.
What is Heather attempting to find? In the following poems, she clears away space to see:
“my broom uncovers my initials that I carved into the laminated tile with an exacto knife, as a child. The slits now thick with dirt and rust…And my failed time capsule containing my treasures: a puka shell necklace, Ken Griffey, Jr. cards, and a letter for future earthlings warning them about the dangers of plastic and potatoes. Sweep, sweep. sweep.”
Goodrich forms this surreal planet of discovering childhood mementos just by sweeping the floor. Heather says that all of her “gems” reappear, some right away, some take years. The reader goes along for the ride. What does she want to stay buried? Nothing, apparently. She uncovers the rotting carcass of a warbler (again we jump into this world— knowing she is sweeping inside, not the backyard.)It is an easy leap for the reader to make—we imagine Heather sweeping anywhere.
She sees the bird and weeps “again,” feeling it’s death for a second time. She conducts a second funeral. Then amusingly, but also creating tension, her mother appears, disgusted, and pulls her into the house by the wrist. Following this scene are two amazing and memorable lines:
“Mother said all little girls with big eyes have big tears and can’t see anything right,” and then—
“She said it’s not polite to handle dead things.”
Goodrich then turns our attention to Heather’s mind, or the unravelling of it. She thinks someone is following her, someone wants to “make her quiet” or “make her stop.” The only respite Heather receives is through sweeping. She sweeps a path, she feels her house breathe again, come alive, and she is its maker. There is wonderful symbolism of being “made” or unmade, like a bed. With cleaning, something that didn’t exist before is created. A room is new. Heather sweeps faster and faster, since something is catching up to her, maybe trying to unmake her, unmake her work. Her hair is dirty, longer now, bouncing off her elbows. She says her dress is too thread bare now, shows too much of her body.
“How is this bulging, boxy, protruding body mine?”
Goodrich touches on female body image in this collection as well: not recognizing shapes, hiding and shaping a body, hinting at cutting skin. Our bodies do not do what we want them to do. They are a shell. She clues us in:
“The house is beginning to smell like rotten meat.”
For all of the cleaning, Heather’s world is aging and decomposing. The frayed dress continues to dangle threads along her bare heels.
The mother’s return to the poems makes us leave Heather’s brain for a bit and returns us to the present with an immediacy. Goodrich writes:
“Mother said my crazy months were July and August. September. She said this when I closed the windows in every room of the house, despite the heat, to silence the crickets. The sound felt like staccato pin pricks and snapping chicken necks.”
Goodrich introduces Heather’s sensitivity to sound with such violent descriptive imagery, alluding to what’s coming down the pike. The crickets have a voice but Heather does not. Heather has “aphonia” which literally means “no voice,” or when outside circumstances damage the vocal chords or voice box.
(She cannot negate anything when her Mother or other people who come to the house want to open the windows because it is so hot they cannot breathe. She protests inwardly. During these visits with her Mother, who is a registered nurse, Heather finally confides in her.) Heather stops focusing on the crickets because there is a larger sound, a more deafening thud she is forced to hear: her heartbeat. Heather tells her mother her heartbeat has moved from her toe to her left ear and she cannot hear movies or pay attention during class. It is overwhelming and awful.
No one believes her so Heather stops talking about it, all the while dreaming that little ticks are hatching in her ear tube.
Heather goes to specialists. Clumps of her dress fall off. When she cannot sit quietly in her skin, she sweeps. She just craves silence. Heather says:
“That would mean I put the broom down. And I can’t yet.”
All of these themes, Heather not having a voice, talking to a Mother who does not listen, doctors not believing her about the shattering thumping sounds in her ear, pinpoints a lack of control, a lack of power. Heather confides in us, the reader:
“They don’t see. They don’t find a mess a mess. They don’t see a problem. When I scream, they say: Heather stop the drama.” It is heartbreaking.
On a deeper level, these poems are about female voice and power. How does one earn permission to be an authority, to inspire confidence in others, to be one’s own advocate? Heather wants to be seen, heard. She literally cannot speak about it.
Goodrich’s poems stomp all over each other like noisy plates balanced in the kitchen until they come crashing down to an effective yet shocking conclusion. I’m not going to give anything away with Heather’s powerful line here, at the end, but it is wonderful:
“But Mother, this is Evolution.”
This poem story is sparkling with a unique voice in Goodrich: gruesome and heartfelt. May we all cling to our sanity a little tighter and only clean once a week, or maybe not at all until ready, uncovering our gentle psyches one time capsule at a time.
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in the DC area. Recent chapbooks are out or forthcoming from Grey Book Press, Dancing Girl Press and Shirt Pocket Press. Her first full length collection is forthcoming from Lucky Bastard Press. Recent work can be seen or is forthcoming at Jet Fuel Review, Pith, Freezeray, So to Speak, Entropy, Right Hand Pointing, Chiron Review, Cider Press Review and decomP. Visit: http://jennifermacbainstephens.wordpress.com/.