The Art Of Naming

(for Ed Hirsch)

And to think we could understand
the abyss by naming it, by holding it
in our hands like a winged bird, a canary
say, flapping on the murderous air--
to think after gazing into the face
of darkness we could catch the darkness
in a word, that in the black and white
imperfect spines of these letters,
the body could rise, and our words
reach back like arms to pull the dead

from their shadows. But no, my friend,
nothing brings the dead back so little
as a word. Better to shriek, scream,
howl, beat your fists against the earth,
better to spit at the diminishing sky
or hunt the killer down with a pink lily,
for when we look over the edge of nothing
an inexpressible terror steals our breath
and cuts off the air to clarity. Naming
it later will not capture what it was.

* * *

In the streets we learn this early.
The brute force of the fist or club
smashes thru our tongues, twists
our voices into wretched sounds,
stammered groans. What starts out
as a word is ripped from our lips unformed,
wild, primordial. Words torn from our chest
fly out as cries; words beaten into lies
turn into fists of stone; words pounded
into shies sever the lifelines of our lives.

* * *

Those I buried are beyond me now, have
always been beyond my reach somehow.
If I could call them back with words I would.
If I had a name for the hand clutching
my throat when their fingers slipped out
of mine, I would've screamed it out and
would still be screaming it in my dreams.
But what we name we hold dominion over,
as if we were small gods. It's what we can't
express that flares up inside us unquenchable—-

the heart burning in the midnight oil--the day
flickering on like a small candle in our eyes--
the voice sounding not for words but for light.

FIRE 21, p 32; R. G. Cantalupo