Caroline Goodwin: 6 Poems

Author’s note:

When San Mateo County, CA shut down in March 2020, I found myself with hours of “new” time on my hands. No carpooling! No commuting! I got right into the practice of getting to my writing desk first thing, spending time with a favorite book: Discovering Wild Plants: Alaska, Western Canada, The Pacific Northwest by Janice Schofield. I loved the process of going through the pages slowly, thinking, saying the words out loud, remembering. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized this before, but the book belonged to my late husband Nick, who died in a cycling accident in 2016. It’s filled with his notes and highlights, those moments that were important to him as an undergraduate student in Environmental Science at Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska. So, my time with the book became my time with him and with my grief. The series of 17-line poems came quickly. Thank you for reading this collection of six of them.


17 Vaccinium ovalifolium Whortleberry 01-22-20 0900 PDT


the fresh, cleaned fish, rabbit, or duck

and under my feet green ice, the ice

holding its own array of paper birch seeds

and they are like stars in their shapes and

in their assorted romantic arrangements and

they are: lady birch, gray birch, Kenai birch

under the soles of my feet of my bootprint

the fresh, cleaned fish, rabbit, or duck

whose habitat varies from the bogs and tundra

to the lowlands and subalpine meadows, whose

jawbones gleamed in the rushes, the palms

of my hands, the extremities where the pelt

and the sinew, the woodstove and snowshoe,

and they are like pools shining or holding

the white sky before us and they are like

my skin, the very cells, the marrow and helix,

the fresh, cleaned fish, rabbit, or duck



2,460 Fucus spiralis Bladderwrack 02-22-20 0647 PDT


the sun-dried or fresh sea vegetable, steeped as tea

and a gold bell you gave me, the shape of steam

drawn over the window, hemlock, syndrome

and experiment, where you placed the crown

and the jewel thorn and bracken fern, you

arranged in the doorway the membrane and

you are: husband, thimble, father, marine summer

at the back of the skull, that which empties itself

of the sun-dried or fresh sea vegetable, steeped

as tea, as the number of heartbeats or allotted

breaths, hairs of the head, sparrows of the field,

paths along the river, estuary, all night breathing

next to me warm and mammalian, industrious,

bladderwrack of ancient origin, salt smell, a fleck

of metal, chain link, conveyor belt, backbone, copper

pipe and my arms full of branches and nomenclature

the sun-dried or fresh sea vegetable, steeped as tea



14,613 Sanguisorba sitchensis Sitka Great Burnet 3-22-20 0830 PDT


blend with other tonic herbs (such as dandelion root

and flower spikes, colored, pinnately compound,

the styptic qualities of the plant’s leaves, sanguisorba,

and a photograph, a hospital bed, a blue flame after

the float plane docks, oxygen, my hand at the throat,

as if the land had pinched it, windpipe, there were starfish

and they were six-legged, rough-skinned, reddish in color,

over-easy, if you stood at the bedside if the newborn

blend with other tonic herbs (such as dandelion root

and a couple of emergency vehicles, to stem the flow,

to dam, what other objects filled the torso, the limb

torn, if I bit you, if a soft cape of petals gathered,

a little gasp, a thistle, and you rising, and a housefinch

at the glass, tapping, and someone stopped the very

arrival, the quickening spirit, as if it never existed as

if we hadn’t spent ourselves like that in this earth

blend with other tonic herbs (such as dandelion root



180,064 Tussilago saggitatus Son Before Father 04-22-20 0847 PDT


flowers were often mixed with buckbean, eyebright,

chamomile, lavender, a few words of elucidation

regarding the masterpiece, the ancient pipe, the felty

undersides of the leaves and I stood listening, sliced

my own wrist inhaled the cooling smoke and a world

appeared, the essentials, that which strikes and enlightens,

wholehearted, where even the most extraordinary

strength will hardly be sufficient, be alive in the tundra,

in the coniferous woods, the ladies of quality, these

roots that taketh away all spots and blemishes, whose

flowers were often mixed with buckbean, eyebright,

primrose, harebell, and the people revered them

and called them Saint, and after a time the incessant

workings of the mind turn visible, turn concrete in

this the hour of lead or of fair trade, of black sugar

or the coming twilight, heliotrope, wild rose, tobacco

flowers were often mixed with buckbean, eyebright



335,729 Salix alaxensis Pussy Willow 05-22-20 0748 PDT


people weave the spring bark to make strong

string, from sorrow and mourning (weeping

willow) to the hearts of oak and breast, eye

and ovary and red wheelbarrow, clavicle,

portent of spring, a slip of paper, anthracite

burning with a little flame or smoke, and there

was the shape of the bud against the eyelid,

silver fur, silk and how do you see yourself in

all this? American linden, jackdaw, purloined

key, steel-blue and purplish, privileged, at dawn

people weave the spring bark to make strong

shapes out of the darkness, out of the fish skin

or the diamond ring or leisure gallery, galaxy

cornice or drumlin, loom, the spindle drift

the treaty the textile the hand against the lip

or was it a finger a scissor a doll a blue fawn

people weave the spring bark to make strong



471,680 Cardamine umbellata Lady’s Smock 06-22-20 0941 PDT


based on the Doctrine of Signatures, a European

method popular in the 1600s, associated the healing

powers with resemblance to human anatomy, human

growth according to its benefits, its rituals or nine bark,

streambed, riverbank, chosen landscape, women’s

work, nursery catalogue, tea rose, picket fence,

copper kettle, a cotton cloth embroidered with blue

flax flowers, a pot holder, a bruise there if you would

just, in the driveway, and what I meant to say was

based on the Doctrine of Signatures, a European

bushel of timothy, the moment by which you judge

the other pain by, the pinprick of light at the eye’s edge

and this for your own good the snap crackle cobweb

the mothwing caught and he’s so sorry and say this

then, buckle up, it happens, the raised hand the nosegay

the rivermouth repeating, pearly everlasting, an Eden

based on the Doctrine of Signatures, a European


Caroline Goodwin moved to California from Sitka, Alaska in 1999 to attend Stanford as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry. Her books are Trapline (JackLeg Press, 2013), Peregrine (Finishing Line Press, 2015), The Paper Tree (Big Yes Press, 2017) andCustody of the Eyes (dancing girl press, 2019). Her chapbook Text Me, Ishmael was published as Steven Hitchins’ Literary Pocketbook Series #2 in 2012. She lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.



  • Mags Munro

    I’m currently taking your class and while only having first read 17 Vaccinium ovalifolium Whortleberry 01-22-20 0900 PDT so far, I wanted to share with you how much I am moved by your style of writing. It’s very unique and appealing on many levels. I’m sorry for your loss and am glad you were able to process your grief through writing.

  • Mary Fisher

    I particularly appreciated the imagery and sentiments in Bladderwock,” “Sitka Great Burnett,” and “Pussy Willow.” Intertwining aspects of your husband’s book, margin notes, and your thoughts wove a vivid picture of his love for his work and your loss and sorrow. I took your class “Writing through Struggle” in 2019. I found solace and purpose in my writing through that class. Thank you. Today, I embrace more discoveries and growth possibilities in your “A Poet’s away” class. Thank you again.

  • Brenda Corelis

    Thank you for sharing these poems. I am in my fourth class with Stanford Continuing Education, all on poetry but my first with you. After reading these poems, I have to say I am fascinated how unique they are and as a new poet I am so curious about your thought process. I find poetry to be very healing for me as I can see how you experience writing, thank you for sharing these. I must read more of your work.


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