Monday, December 1, 2008

Against the Virtues of Classification

In the spring of 2008 I took a long walk with my friend the poet Keith Taylor at the headwaters of the Huron river. It was a magical place, and I was so grateful to him for taking me there. I ended up writing a piece about it.

But we had a little gentle disagreement about the virtues of naming–here’s my side, in verse:

Against the Virtues of Classification
(for Keith Taylor)

If I were a better person, I would know the name of that…” KT

It should be no great shame to bear.
I can’t name maidenhair,
cinnamon, or fiddlehead.
I rhyme slough with enough,
consistently failing
to distinguish marsh from fen,
shagbark from hophornbeam.

I can’t tell my alders from my elders,
and my maples may be muddled,
but in the Spring,
when both eyes turn on the strings of one furry spiral,
and my mind floods
with that singular moment of uncurling,
what I know
is not called fern.

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