Free Association

By Henrietta Goodman

Featured Art by Katsushika Hokusai

“Free associating, that is to say, is akin to mourning; it is
a process of detachment that releases hidden energies . . .”
—Adam Phillips

Always the smell of Windex brings me back to Martin Shelton
in first grade, his memory atomized from some forgotten source.

It’s wind and window when I see him late for school through double
doors of tempered glass, then rushing in on the lovely trochaic

feet of his name, shirt buttoned wrong, blond hair blown in a gust
of oak leaves, smoke, and frost that swept away the simmered meat

and rubber smells, the green litter that soaked up accidents. The wind
recorded and erased. I was afraid to sit with him, or speak—

my first crush a boy who packed his own lunch and walked alone
through dark stairwells hung with Bomb Shelter signs, arrows

aimed at the basement lunchroom where we bowed our heads
to wait for fallout’s drift from the split atom, the invisible anvil

that could fall no matter where we hid. Even when the speakers
hummed and Mr. Wells announced that we were safe,

his name said the earth would swallow us. And now I spray
the glass to wipe away the prints, the trace, but traces gone,

the glass I see through stays. How, then, could mourning set me free,
if Windex leads to Martin leads to beauty leads to bomb?


Henrietta Goodman is the author of three books of poetry: All That Held Us, a sonnet-sequence published by BkMk Press in 2018 as winner of the John Ciardi Prize; Hungry Moon, published by Colorado State University in 2013; and Take What You Want, which won the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books and was published in 2007. She teaches at the University of Montana and at Rocky Mountain College and lives in Missoula, Montana.

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