Posts Tagged ‘naming’




I resist any kind of discourse that anchors itself in identity and proceeds from there. As I said before, I want to get behind categorical distinctions and find and work with what human beings share and how, potentially, people can coexist in a world that is extraordinarily diverse.

            —Michael D. Jackson, “The Politics of Storytelling” in the Harvard Divinity School News



At first we just say flower. How

thrilling it is to name. Then it’s

aster. Begonia. Chrysanthemum.


We spend our childhood learning

to separate one thing from another.

Daffodil. Edelweiss. Fern. We learn


which have five petals, which have six.

We say, “This is a gladiolus, this hyacinth.”

And we fracture the world into separate


identities. Iris. Jasmine. Lavender.

Divorcing the world into singular bits.

And then, when we know how to tell


one thing from another, perhaps

at last we feel the tug to see not

what makes things different, but


what makes things the same. Perhaps

we feel the pleasure that comes

when we start to blur the lines—


and once again everything

is flower, and by everything,

I mean everything.




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I don’t know the name of the flower
about to bloom beside the trail,
but it has the leaves of a lily
and a single bud that hangs heavy
off a long bent stem.

Just as I don’t know the name
for the feeling I have when
I want you to act a certain way
and I have not yet realized
that my wanting is the problem.

Neither of these things matter—
the names, I mean. We like to think
that by naming a thing we know it.
But I have stopped believing that.
Whatever we can name, we start to overlook.

The heliotrope, for instance.
I greet it as we walk by, but I do not
stop to investigate its tiny white flowers,
nor do I rub its leaves between my fingers
to better understand their shape.

Imagine I did not know your name.
So every time we met I would
gather everything I could about you—
the scent of you, the shape of your hands,
the weather of your moods.

And imagine I forgot me, too,
and in discovering you, I’d see
myself anew. And I would be unfamiliar
with words such as happiness or forgiveness
or wound or wife.

Ah, to meet each other like that, the way we meet
this strange flower. More inquisitive than convinced.
More curious, less sure. Less like gods,
omniscient, commanding, more as if we are the ones
with so much opening left to do.

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No one ever said
how high the apple was,
and just how much

of a stretch it might have been
for Eve to pick it.
I think about this today

as I reach for the small, round
purple fruits I cannot name.
There is pleasure and

frustration in not knowing
what to call something
so pleasuresome, so good.

The tree is tall. I do not
need a snake to invite me
to reach. And when I

devour the sweet purple flesh
and the soft cream around
the large black seeds,

I do not need anyone
to bid me take another bite.
I do not share.

From not far away, a rooster
crows. From not far away,
the sound of wind disturbing

dried banana leaves. Those
trees are not so difficult to reach.
Scent of the sea, is it? I do not

pause long to consider the possibilities,
purple juice streaming down
the long, not quite long enough

reach of my arm.

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So long I’ve lived
beneath the same brown birds
and still I do not know
which song belongs to which.
So long I’ve walked
through this meadow
and still I refer to all
the tall green stems as grass.
So long I’ve sat across from you
and still I wonder
who you are.
Oh, do you hear it?
One of those birds,
how it sings
so beautifully,
even in the dark.

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