Nebraska Center for Writers

by Robert King

On the wall of the coffee shop is a map of the world
with all the countries coffee comes from brightly colored,
and the names — Tanzania, Malawi, Tongo, Jamaica —
in white letters bobbing just offshore on the blue-green sea.

In the bread store there must be a map of the world
showing where various wheats and barleys arise
and in the natural history museum a map of dinosaurs'
buried locations, one frequently consulted by geologists.

In the hospital, there's a map where plagues are pins
or blinking lights, and in the marriage store
a map, with local inserts, showing where your future
husband or wife now lives. There's also a map,

you should understand, in the divorce store.
In the church there's a map of the various local
manifestations of God which changes periodically
when a statue exudes red liquid or drinks milk.

In the chair store there's a map showing the location
of all the chairs in the world. This map is always
changing as people get up from a table and move them,
or someone is asked to sit down or someone arrives.

In Orlando, Florida, someone is setting up chairs
in a hotel ballroom for a convention. In Paris,
a chair unaccountably tumbles from a truck
and lands upside down beside the Seine,

a small surrealist object glowing all night.
In Ogden, Iowa, a chair sits at the kitchen table,
unmoved for two years, the dead brother's jacket
draped over it, still too heavy to be lifted up.

In the sleeping store, there's a map of all the countries
where people are asleep, which looks like any map,
a cheap reprint, though probably quite accurate,
and which closely resembles the map in the dying store.

Reprinted with permission
from Naming Names
Copyright © 2001
by Robert King

by Robert King

Every once in a while you look up
the way I did, for example, realizing
I was drinking a ten dollar glass of wine

at a white-painted metal table outdoors

along a historic railroad yard, the real work
going on behind a row of freshly painted

cars retired, primary colors of sky

and tree and blood, and all of this
beside a large white plastic fountain

gently recycling its burble and, near my foot,

the black cord which powered the running artifice
duct-taped down to the historic pavement.

You know what I mean, depending on what

it is you look up every once in a while
to see, your life a series of stage sets, some

pretty insubstantial, thin wobbly flats,

walls painted stone, papier-mache trees,
the sheet of thunder being flapped off-stage

by a kid who didn't get your part

and someone makes the telephone ring
and you were so impressed with yourself

you forgot to really learn any of the lines

and you're stranded on the second-hand couch
with an empty phone, the auditorium breathless.

Reprinted with permission
from Naming Names
Copyright © 2001
by Robert King

by Robert King

I love the words of the name red winged black bird
though my philosopher daughter tells me descriptions
are not real names. And oh I know how the words fail,

turning bright blue prairie blossoms to Spiderwort
a farmer calls Cow Slobber. And I know how lazy
and local we get, talking of buffalo berry, buffalo bird

and grass, Indian grass or fig. Someone called it
Indian bean, the broad catalpa, a tree I met in Kansas
as a child, that place that means the wind, wind people,
south-wind people, a tree whose sound meant flowers,

"head with wings," in the round mouths of the Creek,
a tree which is Bignonia, imagine, in New Latin, when

we wanted to be neutral as science and hence named
a tree for the Abbe Bignon, New Latin librarian
to Louis XIV, hence honoring air again. "Te amo"

my 8th grade girlfriend's friends dared Jayne to say
which didn't mean she loved me, since it was
another language. Later, I took Latin and by now

Miss Hixon's joined Marcus Aurelius who joined,
as he knew he would, three men he names
as learning from and of whom, a footnote says,

"nothing is known" and who, anyway, wrote in Greek
or, for all we know, water. Or the air. Might as well
be air, I've thought, language only a shape of lips.

In Mabel Hixon's Latin class, Gene sat heavily
beside me in his stained work-clothes, his face
a laborious puzzle over the text, the rest of us

wondering why he read, why he was even there.
At our 40th reunion, he turned out to own
the county's biggest truck farm, thank you,

planting food in Latin — a union of onions,
the radical roots of the radish — and other tongues,
tomat, batata, the ancient bha-bha of the bean,

the grains of corn gardeners first called maize,
and the people ate the names and they were good.
It doesn't matter we give every wind a name

that dies, Mabel and Marcus other people now.
This breathing sound is how we call, our only ways
to say te amo to the air and bring it back again,

te amo to the black bird with its red spot wing,
te amo tomato and rosy wort, and green grass grown
and Gene and Jayne and all the, all the names.

Reprinted with permission
from Naming Names
Copyright © 2001
by Robert King

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Nebraska Center for Writers