Dana Goodyear, “Object of Desire”

Thank you to Grace Pham for her thoughts on this.

Object of Desire (from The Atlantic)
Dana Goodyear

Remember its pulse
on the salt-swollen porch,
both body and gash,

that starfish
you rescued, stranded
when found

on the winter beach,
a hand pantomiming

mania: Stop, thief!
Slick, warm, red clot,
who knew what it meant

by living. It should have turned
hard, into ornament,
but stayed wet, like guilt.


I am assuming this is the rough story of the poem: someone went and picked up a starfish off the beach, got hurt in some way, and now is reviewing the incident.

The personification of the natural world is curious. “Salt-swollen porch” seems to make the beach the ocean’s porch. “Pulse,” “both body and gash” make the starfish more like us. “Rescued,” “stranded:” the all-too-human “thief” is only pantomiming stealing. Truth be told, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She thinks the natural world a whole. That much is correct. But is it a whole that needs to be helped? Is it a whole that rejects certain elements which we can take away?

Human reason can’t answer those questions because justice for and toward the natural world doesn’t exist in the same way as it does for us as humans. Some things we may do are obviously wrong. Burning down a whole forest for the heck of it? Yeah, that’s wrong. The planet is not a plaything. But the natural world’s irrationality gives it a life of its own which we simply can’t relate to. The craziness (Gk. mania)  is not ours exclusively. The natural world is as Chaos at points.

The speaker and the thief reflect, focusing on their “body and gash.” It is not clear how the wound occurred. It may be the case that chance – what is between reason and the world? – caused the wound. The focus comes to be on the color, after the texture (slick) and temperature (warm) have been realized. We have moved from touch to sight; rationality is in its proper place. That opens up more questions than answers. “Ornament” in Greek is kosmos – if you wear an ornament appropriate to yourself, it may be the case you know something about your place in the universe. We were hoping the starfish would simply be “hard” in a sense. But what links us and the natural world is being “wet.” All things that have come to be will perish. That much links us and the natural world, no personification required. The guilt may even be mutual.


  1. Interesting poem. It’s not in a style I’d normally like, but I really like the sensory element- particularly at the end. I feel bad and I had nothing to do with this. I definitely agree with your explanation: “All things…will perish. That much links us and the natural world… The guilt may even be mutual.”

  2. what do you mean by this?
    “She thinks the natural world a whole.”

    This strikes me as the quintessential question we face whenever we watch the natural world.For example whenever i’m watching the natural geographic,discovery..ect…i wonder about how the actions of the videographers could save a creature in pain, or place it out of its misery, instead of pointing a camera.

    What is the human role – do we rescue the star fish? what about the harm it may cause us? Interesting stuff.

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