Naming Names

Sample Poems From Naming Names (2001)


I love the words of the name red winged black bird
though my philosopher daughter tells me descriptions
are not real names. And oh I know how the words fail,

turning bright blue prairie blossoms to Spiderwort
a farmer calls Cow Slobber. And I know how lazy
and local we get, talking of buffalo berry, buffalo bird

and grass, Indian grass or fig. Someone called it
Indian bean, the broad catalpa, a tree I met in Kansas
as a child, that place that means the wind, wind people,

south-wind people, a tree whose sound meant flowers,
“head with wings,” in the round mouths of the Creek,
a tree which is Bignonia, imagine, in New Latin, when

we wanted to be neutral as science and hence named
a tree for the Abbe Bignon, New Latin librarian
to Louis XIV, hence honoring air again. “Te amo”
my 8th grade girlfriend’s friends dared Jayne to say
which didn’t mean she loved me, since it was
another language. Later, I took Latin and by now

Miss Hixon’s joined Marcus Aurelius who joined,
as he knew he would, three men he names
as learning from and of whom, a footnote says,

“nothing is known” and who, anyway, wrote in Greek
or, for all we know, water. Or the air. Might as well
be air, I’ve thought, language only a shape of lips.

In Mabel Hixon’s Latin class, Gene sat heavily
beside me in his stained work-clothes, his face
a laborious puzzle over the text, the rest of us                                                                                                          
wondering why he read, why he was even there.            
At our 40th reunion, he turned out to own
the county’s biggest truck farm, thank you,

planting food in Latin--a union of onions,
the radical roots of the radish--and other tongues,
tomat, batata, the ancient bha-bha of the bean,

the grains of corn gardeners first called maize,
and the people ate the names and they were good.
It doesn’t matter we give every wind a name

that dies, Mabel and Marcus other people now.
This breathing sound is how we call, our only ways
to say te amo to the air and bring it back again,

te amo to the black bird with its red spot wing,
te amo tomato and rosy wort, and green grass grown
and Gene and Jayne and all the, all the names.

(by permission: National Writers Union, 1st Prize 2001)


In the rich hotel of the body let's say
         there are palms growing from golden buckets.
No one waters them and yet they grow

amazingly without attention. Or say
         someone waters them, that's their only job
in this hotel closing up for the night.

Say this person is walking toward a bus-stop
         and a police car sirens by. Say that wail--
we are out of the body now, heading toward

the bus, toward home--is the color of fire,
         or the exact shade of an actress's full lips
at the beginning of shooting a film

but not the day they finish shooting the film
         when she walks toward the car taking her home
and meets people coming out of a rich hotel.

Everyone, this is the point, is leaving the hotel,
         the body, I mean, and never coming back.
Security people in matching suits check out

room after empty room, mutter "Copy"
         at the black plastic static of constant requests: 
"Everything," one of them reports, "under control."