Jean Nordhaus

Questions About the Soul

Much summoned in religious texts

and the poems of previous centuries

(oft prefaced by the interjection, O),


it’s off-limits to poets today who speak of it

largely in euphemism: spirit, psyche, Self

(of this last we have plenty to say).

Is it tripartite like God: ego, superego, id?

An artifice of speech: I, me? Or sheer effusion

of energy, the leap across the synapse: animula,

little mouse or muscle moving beneath the skin?

Then every animal must have one, too, the blunt

cow, the squirrel with its plump, articulate tail,

the tiny sea-horse. Whitman’s was a spider

spinning gossamer filaments to touch the world.

Emily’s, a butterfly disguised in a cocoon of silk.

Does the soul live in my skull? my solar

plexus? Is it alone? Can it be shared?

And what is its relation to the sun, to stars?

O, my soul, my sole, my only—curious, elusive

waif—I don’t know what you are

or what you’re made of—only that you

walk with me and move me, partial

solid that I am, wherever I go,

wherever I set my foot on the ground.

Jean Nordhaus’s six volumes of poetry include Memos from the Broken World, The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn, and Innocence. She has published poetry and dance criticism in numerous journals and served as review editor of Poet Lore. She lives in Washington, DC.

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