Poem

The Name of a Man

Ah, unfathomable past,
where have you hidden my brothers?
I imagine waking as one of them
in Babel, in Uqbar, in Macondo,
waking in a panic at the void ahead—
waking without the true language
to be spoken by our daughters.

As I pass a mirror
I hear a brother call my name—
my name a synonym for his—
and I call back to the glass
only for it to be a prayer unto myself.

I am somewhat just an innuendo without
a metaphor for myself.
I’ve acquired plenty of metaphors for other things.
(Time a redwood,
war a mandala,
stars ouroboros,
a child Jehovah.
)
But is there a body referring to my body?
If not, there is hope
that I am not two men, one dreaming the other;
and if I discover a complementarity
what word can merge these men into one?

Brothers, where did you search
to find your noms de plume?
A river poet answers, “the mist.”
A mountain poet answers, “the pines.”
The great poet closes his mouth and smiles.

I consult the encyclopedia for my name,
and as I skim I realize
I am no longer seeing words but etyms—
great ideas reduced by entropy—
and that I’m not a reader
lost in an infinite library,
but one of its innumerable phonemes.

Unassembled,
the first vowel
of my lost name
sits on a leaf
of tobacco.
A girl making
a cigar licks
this precious leaf,
and the vowel
yearns to ignite
defiant words
upon her lips—
she cannot help
but speak my name.
The foreman comes
and punishes
her without cause.

This is the story of my mother—told simply.
As for my father, that is well-written
in tapestries of spoils and war.
You can corrupt yourself
in the labyrinth of footnotes and appendices,
but he is as simple as a word: blood.

Ah, future—
how did you hide the weapon for so long?
Did you know that when it strikes
men become unknown like me?
And now I’m starting to believe
this dark matter of yours is simply
the void coagulating with perdite souls—
and will this be your opus?
I’m embarrassed to admit
I cried at my infinitesimal part.
I will be feeble soon,
barely apt or breathing
during afternoon naps;
and then I will truly be unsung
like you, my indecisive friend.