“There’s a syllogistic reckoning that makes poetry—writing it, reading it—an act of hope.”
For some reason, recently, Dippin’ Dots popped into my mind. Those weird little beads of “astronaut” ice cream, sold in cups at the mall.
And with them, madeleine-style, came a memory-rush of the excited, futuristic ambiance of the turn of the millennium: the metallic space-suit-esque clothing, the candy-colored translucent iMacs, Britney Spears on Mars.1 The general optimism of the Clinton economy.
Of course, I was born in 1986. And kids, perhaps especially millennials, were supposed to feel that all the doors would open for them, that if they loved what they did, they’d never work a day in their lives. Passion, etc. I didn’t at the time register Dippin’ Dots as a kind of promise about what the future held, but something sank in.2
I bring this up because I think one of the things that characterizes my generation is a grand dissolution. (And yes, disillusion…) What seemed to be solid ground is dissolving. In addition to literal ground—the rising sea levels eating away at the edges—I’m thinking of things like the idea of a career, democracy, of objective truth, which are disintegrating into the instability of gig-economy, decentralized armed militias, and whatever’s the opposite of a shared sense of reality.3
All that was already under way, and then the pandemic came along and jet-fueled the crumbling of certainty.
No one’s having babies anymore.
Just Google “Millennial fertility rate” and the lamentations and listicles pile up—it’s economic precarity, debt, climate anxiety, the mental health pandemic, the pandemic-pandemic, war, backsliding of basic rights…
A promise about what the future held—
Many of the poems I’ve been writing lately are trying to figure out how to think about the future, how to reasonably hope, and what we must be resigned to. How can you imagine the future when the present is so slippery, so ready to dissolve? And, in the absence of that ability to imagine, is it possible to hope?
Sometimes, it seems that hope requires a kind of willful naiveté, a protective heedlessness.4 But, I guess, one of the many utilities of poetry is how it helps us re-see, un-numbed and un-blindered.5 How it returns us to our world more sensate than before.
Conceive first meant “take (seed) into the womb, become pregnant,” and then, half a century later, took on the meaning “take into the mind, form a correct notion of.”6 It seems important to recognize that, apparently, we know intuitively that there’s a connection between having a child and conceptualizing, realizing. I would add that even thinking about having a baby stretches your conceived-of territory of the future, forces the mind to imagine—in practical, pressing ways—further than it feels comfortable doing.
And poetry can think about time in a way nothing else can. In part through the collapse of it—in “Hysterosalpingography” the wiggle room in ancient roman prophecy becomes, through the tesseract of the lines, the hospital room the speaker finds herself in. We can be tricked into conceiving of vast swaths of time. Lineation instills an elasticity of comprehension. That “no one will recover” blooms broadly, anxiously into the blank space, before sharpening down into its specific, insignificant thought (“… my x-rays from the earth”) dilates the mind from the large to the small, from the big picture to the present.
I don’t mean to say this as if I have mastered something, as if I am intentional. What I mean to say is that I feel that the form does this to me—as I fumble around in a draft, as I hit the return key like a horn in the traffic of the language—that the act of writing a poem is an experiment in feeling time and scale.
The act of writing this poem was an experiment in conceiving of what it would mean to have, or not have a baby. What kind of world would she live in? What kind of future would stretch before her? What kind of divination—if I spread the entrails of the present out before me—could I muster?
A hysterosalpingogram is a physically painful7 act of looking, of confronting the present. Something that you are most likely to undergo if you are interested in imagining a certain kind of future. It sounds right, in our particularly drastic, violent and bleak moment, to say that hope requires a willful blindering. Or a naiveté bordering on delusion.8
Dippin’ Dots seem now to me a kind of delusion—that an exciting future could be purchased, held, pressed against the roof of your mouth in the mall’s food court.9
Perhaps “Hysterosalpingography” seems like a very resigned poem. But there’s something hope-adjacent (devotion?) that comes with looking and allowing yourself to feel. Isn’t it the least-hopeful thing to look away, to cover your eyes—that is, to give up on it?
There’s a syllogistic reckoning that makes poetry—writing it, reading it—an act of hope. There’s a way that grappling with time—as I think one does, inevitably, in a poem—that makes it an act of devotion. That painful facing forward. This pulls against the dissolution that threatens my ability to consider the future, that makes me want to cover my eyes.
I suppose this is when I should become “the speaker” for a moment and say that 6 weeks ago, I had a baby.
I’m trying to finish this sentence, this essay, as my daughter is waking up. Soon she’ll cry, and time will both extend and collapse—the future arriving, ringing in the air.
 “Oops!… I Did It Again” official music video
 “Dippin’ Dots ice cream is a cool, fun, out-of-this-world treat – but, in fact, it’s not astronaut ice cream!”
 Not all of the dissolution is bad. Like, we didn’t need the hard—to some, comforting—binary of man and woman; we needed some things to blur and open themselves up to something multifaceted.
 “The good of this method, of any method / of divination is how it spares one / the act of looking / at what has been hauled, dripping, into the light.”
 “below, / doors to this world open along with shiny black exits, / unholstered… what has been hauled, dripping, into the light.”
 Conceive (v)
 Should you need to undergo this, I recommend ibuprofen at the very least, and someone to drive you home. I had neither, and it was a mistake.
 The original appeal / of Magic Eye was in the disbelief in anything there / to see.
 Marketing, a failed CIA plot to innoculate / against letdown.
Rosalie Moffett is the author of Nervous System (Ecco, 2019), which was chosen by Monica Youn for the National Poetry Series Prize and listed by the New York Times as a New and Notable book, as well as June in Eden (Ohio State University Press, 2016). She has been awarded the “Discovery”/Boston Review prize, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, and scholarships from the Tin House and Bread Loaf writers’ conferences. Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Narrative, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Indiana.