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We read Anne Caston's poem "The Body Of An Unidentified Woman Is Retrieved From The Jordan"  for this prompt and I asked that writers focus on the idea of being unidentified.

Though unidentified would seem to indicate anonymity, and with it a kind of obscurity, in Caston's poem the unidentified woman is given, if only imagined, an identity, and with it careful attention.  We can also look at the memorials to "unknown soldiers" in Washington, D.C. (and around the world) as a similar kind of attention.

Your poem can look at a person, an object, a feeling, or any sense of being unidentified.

I would also note that I find Caston's titles are often quite detailed and set the stage interestingly for the poem that follows - some examples: "To the Woman in the Next Bed Whose Daughter Was Born with Down Syndrome the Day My Daughter Was Born Dead", "Stumbling into a Pecan Grove at Midnight Just After the Lynching" "My Patient Jumps to His Death" and "Lizard Whiskey: A Parting Gift From Vietnam." It is a technique you may want to try for this writing exercise.


Anne Caston was born in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Her first collection of poems, Flying Out with the Wounded, won the 1996 New York University Press Prize for Poetry. The subjects of most of the poems in that collection are scientific - specifically, medical science. But the poems are not coldly surgical, but rather sensitive looks at tough scenes.  She takes subjects like autopsies, lobotomies, emergency rooms, burn wards, and intensive-care units and observes them as poet and person. When in one poem, someone finds the body of a drowned boy and says, " Now there are whole days / I am not a part of", I feel that way too.
I heard her read in 1998 at the Dodge Poetry Festival where I could feel a tent full of listeners hold their breath, or exhale to cry. And yet, when I read her book I felt more healing than I felt hurting.
Caston teaches at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks where she serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing/Poetry.
I await her second collection of poems, which is tentatively titled The Burden.


In a pit,
my ashes smolder

like everyone else's.
My wood is perfect,

worm holes and all.
As a mannequin,
I can't cry

for what is not mine.
Dead babies

have no place here.
My wood is perfect,

worm holes and all.
In a pit,

my ashes smolder
like everyone else's.
As a mannequin,

I can't cry
for what I don't feel.
As a mannequin,

I can't die
for what I don't know.
My wood is perfect,

worm holes and all.
In a pit,

my ashes smolder
like everyone else's,

but mannequins are nameless
and are built without wombs.
Dead babies

have no place here.
Dead babies
have no place here.



It’s not an odor but something
just under and odor that reminds us
this room has gone unused
for weeks (or has it been years?)

We can only imagine who it was
who saw this same brown chair
turned slightly toward the window
and only wonder whether he left

in a hurry, consumed by something
so urgent out there
or with deliberation, knowing
he’d never return.

We have to supply the gray of that day
ourselves, the white grey burning
at the windows, darkening everything
inside. Only then

does silence fill the space between us
and the abandoned things, leaving
us to ache over the long rows
of books, still shelved in their owner’s order.

Peter Goudaman


" No self, No problem."

Left self
in Boston.
No self

Lost self on
No E-zee pass

coming and going,
no breath.

Know self
No self.
No time.

No problem?

Broeck Wahl




I stand in my short, black dress in a crowded subway station
Feeling lonely, but brimming with good will, wanting to be noticed.
Suits, dresses, shorts, skirts and tops stand placidly, self- involved.
I think each lucky one has been identified
By someone who knows them to their inner core--
How they think and how they breathe.
Made whole, I believe, by another’s symbiotic attention?
“ Haven’t seen you for a while.
How are you? Good to see you.”
A nod, a smile, words of greeting from a friend.
I’ve been noticed, still unidentified,
But noticed is enough for now.

Ellen Kaplan


There was a book called
" Cards of Identity."
Someone suggested I read it
Before I continue long
On my life's journey.

I bought it but never read it
Thinking it might change my life.
It was the person who suggested.
I might say I was an artist
And draw with my right hand
Imaginary dragons of the left handed sort.
Or pretend I was a butcher boy
Delivering myself to pain.

My parents said
You have no identity
Only a duty to us
Or for us when we speak of you
To the neighbors.

The tall young American
I happened to conversate with
In Puebla or is it Pueblo
" I can spot you as a New York Jew,
Be like me,
Wear a silver cross
Change identity
You are then kosher for
The senoritas.',

I was a guess at dinner
And the dropout said to his parents
'Will you pass me a role?'
And the parents said,
'We've passed you a roll,'
And the dropout said
'Pass me a role,'
And the parents said, 'which roll?'
While the young man replied,
I must row, row, row my role.

Edward Halperin



I didn’t know her name, that is, I only knew her first name
and only because someone called it out loud

and I thought I might have seen her before
(in a restaurant, or a dream, in a car stopped beside me?)

but I had no proof, that is, I had no memory to attach
to her face, though her hair from behind seemed very familiar

but then she turned and walked towards me and I was a child again
opening the coal furnace door in our basement, a rush of heat

I closed my eyes until it passed, took a breath, and opened
to the glow of the flame that I stared at too long.

My hand went to my eyebrows to see if they were singed,
that is, to wipe my forehead, to clear my eyes.

Ken Ronkowitz



My dog nuzzles under the rich
dark hair overhanging his face, wags
her tail low and slow, sad
greeting for the newly dead.

He’s not the one we’re looking for,
the kid last seen playing
by the irrigation ditch; a toddler
with shade at noon
and water free from the tap.

We didn’t want this stranger
in dusty work-clothes ripped at the knee
from stumbling over rocks; palms
raw from easing the fall.

When did he cross the border to this
promised land? So many desert miles
hiding from sun, guiding by stars
we seldom look up to see. How far
can a man walk without water?

He’s not the one we’re looking for,
but I praise my dog,
who doesn’t care for her reward.
She only loves to find the living.

Taylor Graham



It could be murder,
suicide, accident
Probably Palestinian
maybe Jewish -
either killed out of hate

Who cares
if her memory
slips past infinity
to become another
unknown speck
on time’s forgotten page?
Do you? Do I?

Len McIntosh



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