Click here to listen to Steven Henry Madoff read this poem.
They call him Namer. He begins.
Otter, with its fan-shaped hindprint.
Chalcedony’s violet insignia.
All the realm of tapping down,
tap tap tap,
of wedging the intricate flanges and hinges
of matter into place—
even this creel of language I inherit.
On his right, the line out to the seam
of sky smeared with falling cirrus,
a shadow under the mute plots
of tufted hair grass, yes,
Deschampsia caespitosa, he will need
the glottal archways of Latin’s
Te deum to mask the raw sap of shapes,
unguent sheen of royal jelly,
how to name the separate bees, flared globes
of Morning Glory, and the tumid weights
of liver, pancreas, which he takes from a notion
of crudeness, the duodenum
nearby. He works all day at this, paragonite,
radium, moon. How will I understand it,
the foldings of speech? He knows already
that it leads to gibbets and maces, though the names
are still unformed, the special
invented agonies, but miraculously he is falling asleep.
The field is waiting for his noun-spade
steaming in the noun-turned air:
Loosestrife, Yellow Rattlebox, Soapweed,
the True Watercress (what is the Untrue?),
the living scent of Jasmine. Not
the field of almost, the field of is.
At the base of language
is a wrench he names to use.
Why him, why the two of them, why
us above the other things?
And the gate of the unknowable—clapping,