Note: I’m reasonably sure this isn’t my best poem; it might even be my worst, but then I’ve no idea which is the best or worst. However, I can be precise about where and when I began writing “Naming and Dividing,” though I haven’t a clue as to why I did so.
Naming and Dividing
Latitude 42.47, Longitude -71.07
1/10/19 0837 Hours
Without these obligatory compulsions
it couldn’t be Thursday morning on Spring
Street in Wakefield in the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts. Adam’s first job—even
before working up the sweat of his brow—
was naming. Newborns need milk, love, and names.
The hospital must have a name and address
if we’re to get there when the contractions start.
If she had no name, how could you tell your doctor
from the others? They all wear the same white coats.
And time, no matter how shifty it feels, must
be made into a regular tick-tock or
how would we know when our appointments are?
We’re all in thrall to the decimal system.
Turning thirty, fifty, seventy matters
as much as fresh decades and new centuries.
Space=time—we set up milestones on both.
Our first vocation is to make sense of the
world and time, although the sense we make is
just for us. The droning plains and rhyming
hills, the singular salt ocean and the
immeasurable eons, these care nothing
for our dividing and naming, no more than
a pack of wolves padding across some line drawn
to fix Wyoming south of Montana.
Names and addresses, endearments and
sobriquets, names people make for themselves,
names to conjure with, names on maps and the
roads that lead us there, names that incarnate
whole histories—Tuscaloosa, London,
Daxing, Minnesota, the Mohawk Trail,
Lascaux, Little Roundtop, Krakatoa,
Baltimore, Bamako, Bryn Athyn, the Bronx.
Naming them names what happened there and to whom.
Most numbers are prices but all names are stories.
The Merchant of Venice, John Foster Dulles,
The Garden of Earthly Delights, tea time, Caligula,
Broadway Joe, the Venus of Willendorf,
Appalachian Spring, Saint Thomas Aquinas,
the Sea of Azov, William Butler Yeats, Charles Darwin,
Audie Murphy, Hopalong Cassidy, the Yellow River,
Lesbos, Rhine Westphalia, Nathanael West, Klaren Verheim,
Formosa, Frank Nitti, Mount Olympus, Milena Jesenská,
Gifford Pinchot, and Ultima Thule
Name a void and it’s a void no longer.
Without our lines and figures, space and time
would stretch undifferentiated, inane,
lacking a beginning, middle, or end.
Civilization starts with distinctions:
inside and outside, down there, up here, Asia
and Europe, medieval and modern,
War and Peace and Crime and Punishment,
exposition and development,
mods and rockers, your place or mine,
sleeping and waking, the quick and the dead
Give us an X axis then a Y
and we’ll set frontiers, or try.
Give us latitudes and longitudes
and we’ll make a map and scribe a border,
we’ll christen streets, name neighborhoods
to limn a reassuring order.
Give us a lifetime
and we’ll set a deadline.
© 2019 Robert Wexelblatt
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