Failed Essay on Shapes




Mother tells Girl, who chews
the word like bubble gum.


Or, newly toothed, Girl really chews
an elephant’s helping of gum.


More interested in blowing a bubble than
in the names of what she can see.


This essay does not concern itself
with philosophies.


Unquestionably the shape exists without the name,
the name without the shape.


Through her hand pressing, prodding,
her globular belly, Mother intuited


Girl’s infant body as well as all
her future bodies,


proving a thesis as yet unvoiced
by either Girl or Mother:


that all shapes con- or de-form
under the right pressure,


that the work of a woman’s life
is the shape of herself.


But no good essay
ends on a general note.


Mother tells Girl particulars born
of the generalities named love and fear:


Your body’s shape has no name except yours.
Apply pressure until you are yourself incontrovertibly.


What from the womb I wanted.




Black and white portrait photograph of poet, Elisa Gonzalez
Photo by Simon Bahçeli

Elisa Gonzalez is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her work appears in Harvard ReviewHyperallergicThe New Yorker, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Norman Mailer Foundation, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Rolex Foundation, and US Fulbright Program. She is the recipient of a 2020 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award.


“Failed Essay on Shapes” first appeared in TLR: Granary and is retrieved here as part of our Vigil for Mother’s Day 2022