Of Knowledge: The Vast, Provisional Body

On a weekend in full daylight you crave the compounds released by decomp you rest your padded bones on damp ground, on so many fragments of cedar, while the boy, the girl embark on challenges, climbing hills and fallen logs, teaching their bodies the shape of mountains.

The feed proclaims: A Single Session of Exercise Alters 9,815 Molecules in Our Blood. The pathways turn and we unlock ourselves.

Your eyes adjust and stars come out even in this Cloudland, this Plasticland, this place of fluxing hegemonies. You receive information not like posts in a feed but like compounds washed up against delicate root-hairs after rain, like CO2 wafting into an open leaf pore.

Say one night after they’re in bed the fridge humming you open up the screen door and step out. You full of night, night full of you. You listen to ferns whose roots store water you listen to salal whose leaves lose little water whose body paints the shape of flame whose berries hang right here. The super/blood/wolf moon now risen. Like the moon you have stopped counting what you feed yourself, the slice of apple in your mouth and gone before you realized you were holding the knife.

Elsewhere a whale falls feeding the seafloor. The backyard was a seafloor once and may be so again when the coastline was different the backyard holds your children now your giggling earth-babies falling and rising and rising on a trampoline in daylight.

What’s conserved over so much time: the chemical conspiracy between trees, between you and children, entities in need with each other, bodies listening to bodies.


Body feels the day coursing through it needs movement to consume pools of worry. Body walks itself into feeling different. Body decorates itself, paints its awnings, hangs rings on its unimportant skin. Body rests itself, tumbles into its sleep-time projection room. Body grown inside another body. Body surviving on the bones of other bodies. Body living because other bodies are consumable. Body into its own bullshit all day. Body doing what it did the day before. Body with cat. Body with children. Body taking up cosmetic attention, body inhaling the product of burnt plants, body inhaling the product of respiring plants. Body in motion, metabolizing rage. Whose body. Whose body. Having to say I.


Another day: the girl unfolds and touches down on you unzipping the day reacting to stories of social positioning of grade school power plays and small humiliation and you let advice pool up unspoken do your best to cedar that is to inhabit space and be the main home thing without wanting to be less.

The girl and boy go forth into the yard look up at power lines and try crow-language opening their throats.

In the car the girl asks if you are small or unsmall and you say yes.

Jessica E. Johnson is the author of Metabolics (Acre Books, 2023). Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Harvard ReviewEntropyRiver TeethPoetry NorthwestDIAGRAMInterimThe Account, and Tin House, among others. She is an Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient and an Oregon Book Award Finalist for her chapbook In Absolutes We Seek Each Other (New Michigan Press). She lives in Portland, Oregon, and teaches at Portland Community College.