Poetry 29: The Names of Things by Jeffrey Harrison


Just after breakfast and still
waking up, I take the path cut
through the meadow, my mind caught
in some rudimentary stage,
the stems of timothy bending
inward with the weight of a single
drop of condensed fog clinging
to each of their fuzzy heads
that brush wetly against my jeans.
Out on a rise, the lupines stand
like a choir singing their purples,
pinks and whites to the buttercups
spread thickly through the grasses –
and to the sparser daisies, orange
hawkweed, pink and white clover,
purple vetch, butter-and-eggs.
It’s a pleasure to name things
as long as one doesn’t get
hung up about it. A pleasure, too,
to pick up the dirt road and listen
to my sneakers soaked with dew
scrunching on the damp pinkish sand –
that must be feldspar, an element
of granite, I remember from
fifth grade. I don’t know what
this black salamander with yellow spots
is called – I want to say yellow-
spotted salamander, as if names
innocently sprang from things
themselves. Purple columbines
nod in a ditch, escapees
from someone’s garden. It isn’t
until I’m on my way back
that they remind me of the school
shootings in Colorado,
the association clinging to the spurs
of their delicate, complex blooms.
And I remember the hawk
in hawkweed, and that it’s also
called devil’s paintbrush, and how
lupines are named after wolves. . .
how like second thoughts the darker
world encroaches even on these
fields protected as a sanctuary,
something ulterior always
creeping in like seeds carried
in the excrement of these buoyant
goldfinches, whose yellow bodies
are as bright as joy itself,
but whose species name in Latin
means “sorrowful.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

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