Conundrum Press

“Love Poem For Naming”

January 21st, 2014  |  Published in Blog

by Debbie Vance

The Missouri Review featured this poem by Corrie Williamson a couple of weeks ago, and I find that I keep returning to it. It revolves around one moment-which Carrie speaks of in the following author’s note-but includes so many more. Tangible memories of youth, of wheat fields and worried mothers and bells that bring you home, of speechless animals and magic ships in the night, and of butter. There’s a beautiful connection here, between memory and language, love and imagination, knowing and naming. It’s a poem I’d like to spend more time with, to dwell with. I hope you do, too.

Rather unromantically, this poem emerged from laying awake and listening to my boyfriend snore. Perhaps a bit more romantically, let me quote Emerson on etymology and naming: “Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression or naming, is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree.” With this poem, I wanted to take simple words and sounds and trace a kind of dreamlike arc towards their historical or emotional hearts, to note both the beauty and the challenge of naming something. It’s a love poem to a physical person, as well as to the process of finding other ways of imagining love. It is also, I’ve always thought, a lullaby – a song to rock the boat of the self to sleep.

Love Poem for Naming
by Corrie Williamson

Find the word for it, the nightly sound
of breath
beside me. Call it a hand

run up and down a length
of taut-skinned tree bark,
poplar, maybe.

Arrowed shape
the old shipmakers
harvested for masts.

Or possibly call it the rustle in the dry
wheat that grew wild through
our back field,

where I built nests when I was small
as I imagined the speechless animals
did, flag leaves

brittle, shush-saying over my head.
Hidden there
just long enough

for my mother to worry. Come to the porch,
dishtowel on her shoulder,

my name over the afternoon.
Keen and honest
as the iron

bell in the garden. I would
explode from the chaff,

a wild grouse. Most nights:
his back.
The moon

turns its white face between the blinds.
If I woke him,
demanded, The moon,

name it, would he say
a bowl of gold butter
on our breakfast table.

The upended shell of earth’s silver
turtle twin. No,
   I’d reply.

An ivory viking longship, tipping
into black sea. Your shoulder

parenthetical. No, this: your body
is the boat, its fine,
   slumbered rigging -

that drumming in the keel.


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