What is it about a good poem? It has the power to sort of stop time, slow your breathing, and remind you of what you love, who you are. Who you are REALLY, like in Love's eyes.
This Robert Fanning poem, this Monday morning, arrives as I contemplate the stress and headache of entering back into the messy world of arts education and administration. It shows up as I'm thinking about how hair spiders in my shower drain and lint ball dust bunnies clinging to my floor are similar to this work I've tried to leave behind: gross, messy, unattractive, needing to be dealt with.
But then I read this poem. And I remember. I know this voice the poet is talking about. The quiet, teacher-practicing voice of respect, of fear, of love, of awe. The voice that whispers with reverence in the face of something like mystery.
I hear that voice. It lives in me. And I know how to use it. As I know Love.
Poem: "The List of Good Names" by Robert Fanning, from The Seed Thieves. © Marick Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
The List of Good Names
Tonight, in the family style
pizzeria, we speak of having a child
some day. On a napkin smudged red
where the leaky felt tip lingered,
I watch meteors, sperm and tadpoles
cross the paper sky, as you
draw up a list of good names.
Looking at the list, I'm a substitute
teacher practicing attendance
before the class arrives:
Isabella, Gabriel, Rose. Who will be
the bookworm, the athlete, the clown?
Around us, the families finish
dinner, pack into minivans and leave.
The pimpled waiter picks up
broken crayons, wipes sauce
from a plastic high chair,
unplugs the video game.
Soon the room's as silent
as a doll shop after hours.
When I'm ready to speak, above
the ticking of the clock, my rubber
lips click. Whispering the list's
first name, I hear the voice
I used when I spoke your name
the first time—that voice I've used
when I try the name of an unknown
plant, or when I'm scared, or when
I pray, or when I know a stranger
now listens in the next booth,
the one I thought was vacant.
Queen Mab Contemplates