Jane Doe #4, Don Thompson

Charles Hood, Un-Sign


Jane Doe  #4


One love after another, erased
and replaced
like palimpsest tattoos:
letters of a name altered
(obvious) and designs
finally becoming a blur.

An embarrassment she tries
to keep covered
with evasions, vague answers
to girlfriends’ questions.

And pregnant—again.

But not wanton, not even foolish:
just too much
obstinate, empty hope
much too often.

Burned-out at thirty,
feeling almost as old
as that nonagenarian carny
(a great aunt she visited)
decomposing in a rest home—
hair like wisps of
used-to-be pink cotton candy,
rheumy blindness
and her salty patois
reduced to drool.

Tattoos no worse than Jane’s though:
shapeless terra incognito maps
with illegible men’s names
rather than places.
And yet, a picture of her brain
more accurate than an MRI.


Hood rat eyes, brows shaved
and then penciled in—
an arc found nowhere in nature.
Burnt plum lip gloss.

Absurd platform shoes left behind
where the blood trail began—
dragged by bare heels
to where she was found by

early students in early light,
discarded in a high school parking lot.
One arm raised like a broken branch
and wet with dew.

But who?  Sometimes
high tech forensics fail, yielding
dead end DNA—no matches
closer than remote cousins.

Dental work done off the grid
or on the rez, unrecorded;
purse and ID chucked in a dumpster
miles from her last breath.


In the end the only one to love
is death.  Toxic,
any girlfriend would tell her.

And now, trapped, she howls
up at him like a bare white moon
skull that ignores her,
praying for his withheld embrace.

Lord, let it be done with…

So many deaths to choose from
and she got it all wrong.
Not a glitch in the heart
nor a clot in the frontal lobe,
not even a car wreck
or a freakish slip and fracture.

Lord, grant us cancer—anything,
but not this
death that keeps whispering,
“Not yet, bitch.  Not yet”.


Her fetus somewhere in a jar
in fretful lab light,

abandoned, not at least
a pickled punk in a carnival sideshow,

gathers dust—labeled
“Baby Doe” and a date.

Tentative features deeper in thought
than we know how to be,

deeper than Rodin’s Thinker
(who’s just sulking anyway),

aged to the color of mold
smeared with bioluminescent green:

a bronze consciousness,
an almost human apathy…

Baby in a jar,
Tell us who you are.

Your mama’s no one
And papa’s long gone.

Tell us, baby in a jar,
Who you are.

Don Thompson


Review by Massimo Fantuzzi

If the first three words were my gravitational axis in the previous poem and stayed with me for the whole piece, in this one, the epicenter is in the last three words, Who you are. The same tragic, choking sense of being buckled and shot at speed for the tiniest speck of light follows us in a read polluted by the white noise of Inevitability. Unlike the previous poem, we have a third party: meet our baby brother, Baby Doe. Out of the womb, the breed of that tragic conception of misjudgment and misfortune has popped out ashen drowned in blood and amniotic fluid, one of us. The poem asks who we are.


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