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IN THE TIME BEFORE NAMES

Adam,
before you begin to name all things,
see how the forest reels
in the shadow of indifferent
leaves and the strange land
begs for a proper noun.
Start with simple nouns
for homely beasts — dog and cat, pig and cow.
Observe how dolphins
make of arcs
an airy signature,
trying to make a name
for themselves.
Then let whimsy reign
for what you only dream exists —
mastodon and hippopotamus.

With Godly imprimatur
let the first try stand;
let all words come
like root from seed
to the tip of your tongue
from thing itself.
In the manner of dialect,
the aspen, used to the shade
of oak and beech,
begins to stand apart
and speak its own name
in a silvery tongue.
See how oriole and whippoorwill
can be distinguished
from the air they sing.
When the first day's work
is done, and — weary of words,
amazed by the vast unspeakable stillness of stars —
you lay your head
on the mossy knee
of an apple tree, will your sleep
be troubled by some ache
beneath your rib,
vague, without a name?



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