Touch by John Godfrey

The gauntlet puts on weight

and I climb into its thumb

which balances and then teeters

and thuds against my nose

and I see stars forever having

forgot aspirations of diligence and method

whatever was the retreat in research

and pursuit in gravity of something

to do while resting in geological sleep

where to touch is to be felt by nothing


I think to understand “Touch” by John Godfrey, a reader should know a little bit about the daily life of this poet: an HIV clinician and nurse, Godfrey has seen much of his life through the perspective of his patients, which reflects strongly in his poetry.

Whether or not this piece is a direct commentary on working with HIV/AIDS patients, I think that this lens was probably influential in writing this poem that I believe says a lot about isolation and feelings of helplessness. In the first two stanzas, the dual usage of “gauntlet” adds an immediate heaviness to the poem, especially since the speaker must climb into it, losing his balance in the process. This is an image of isolation and desensitization, since the gauntlet is armor and a separation of people and their touch. The poem immediately and almost jarringly shifts from a micro to macro perspective in the third stanza with talk of the stars and what the speaker sees as both “forever” and “forgot”—these epitomal signs of hope are to the speaker also harbingers of forgotten methods and confusion. This confusion and listlessness is emphasized even further in the fourth stanza where research, a thing of “gravity”, is surrounded in the sphere of retreat and is in search of an elusive “something”, showing a lack of purpose. The gauntlet separates skin from skin and person from person, touch meaning nothing in this impersonal interaction. The phrase “geological sleep” for me echoes throughout the poem—a sleepiness and absence that is something reminiscent of hollow dreams, and through this phrase we really feel a sensory and emotional disconnect.

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