Kathrine Varnes

I am the Goddess of Unfinished Tasks

I am the Goddess of Unfinished Tasks—
the novel, the screenplay, the quilt.
I download trite movies and meaningless games.
I birthed both Ambition and Guilt.

Don't ask me the father of my darling twins.
You know I've forgotten His name.
He wanted to marry and wrap up the narrative,
baptize the fetus called Blame.

But bearing that child? Do I need to explain?
Better she stay in my womb
forever in vitro, exploding, imploding,
breathing her own toxic plume.

I am the Goddess of Unfinished Tasks and
I hear your halfhearted prayers,
but I hardly listen and I never plan.
I grant distractions and dares.

I weave the dreams that unravel with dawn,
those faces that shift in the light.
I am the reason you'll almost remember,
the why you won't quite get it right.

IT is irrelevant, that is my gift,
the gift you refuse to accept.
I am the Goddess of Unfinished Tasks—
the half sung, half undone, unkempt.

Not for my sake do you eat uncooked dough
when the bread only bakes part way through.
He looks vaguely familiar, urging you on,
Just swallow it, He says. You do.

I don't resent them, these little completions,
these desperate quick grabs toward The End.
Over and over, the rhythm continues
like email. So go on, hit Send.


The number of per- and polyflouroalkyl compounds currently unregulated in cosmetics in North America, according to a 2021 ecotoxicology study led by Heather D. Whitehead and published in ACS.

What fraction of my total life's exposure?
Applying lipstick with a studied gaze,
I had no thoughts of parabens or compounds
perflour or polyflour, or BHAs.

To be a proper, lip-lined, long-lashed woman
with daily sunscreen smoothed into her skin,
I chose for affordability and fashion
—not acids, ethanols or lecithin.

The brands I trusted with my untouched face
with names suggesting medical care and lore
did not disclose, were not required to note
3000 compounds in my make-up drawer.

What unnamed highly fluorinated touches
may or may not have been absorbed, or harmed
the waterways near my home, I do not know.
A softly shimmering eyelid had me charmed.


Kathrine Varnes is the author of a book of poems, The Paragon (2005), and co-editor with Annie Finch of the still-in-print An Exaltation of Forms (2002). Forthcoming and recent works include a poem in the summer issue of Assisi and a series of poems in the voice of a vampire (!) for Isis (2022), an independent feature film directed by Diana Rodriguez. Her epitaph will probably read "Just a minute, I need to finish this thought." Varnes teaches poetry to the wonderfully creative students at SUNY's Fashion Institute in Manhattan and lives in Larchmont, New York.


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The latest addition to the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Database is Rachel Wetzsteon by Patricia Behrens. The Poetry by the Sea Conference is scheduled next year from May 21-24.

Maureen Alsop:I often create visual art as a memorialization to the closure of a written work. However, many of these visual pieces arrived as a trajectory while writing a larger 'work-in-progress.' The text within the visual poems do not speak to the content of the larger work but are autonomous, acting as bridge between the written and visual bodies. The original text draws upon ghosts in the hall of battles. It is a glittering solar analemma, an unattested revolution, an infinity reflected in ellipses, omissions, and disintegration. A full collection representing many of these images came to fruition recently in Tender to Empress (Wet Cement Press). Yet the act of creating from text continues, as the digital collages here also include newer works based on miscellaneous notes, old emails, and most recently a short story, "The Unnamed Woman of Mary River" (forthcoming at South Dakota Review). The title to these are based on cargo ships which I pass on my daily commute from island to mainland. These small cities of people, afloat for weeks on end out at sea, are a looming story that embarks and disembarks in my imagination.

The visual poems are crafted under the mechanics of "Écriture Féminine," literally "women's writing." These principals advance a feminine perspective. I write from parallels, cyclical slips through stream of conscious and fragmentary processes. The writing exists as rough erotic. As talisman. Interpersonal in their ruptures and syntax, soft in their discomforts; a splintered narrative. Through writing, I can go anywhere and never be found.

32 Poems
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