Name your fears—
name them Liam or
Paul, or Gertrude
if it fits best
give them noses,
habits like constitutional walks after dinner, or snooker or chess.
Give them eye colors, salty smells when they exercise
and haven’t showered, when they stare at you with a towel over their
shoulder at the door to the bathroom.
Give some pit stains,
and others twitching
crudded up eyes.
Name all of your failed loves—
name them after flowers—remember the way Chrysanthemum
would shoulder you gently,
as you walked along a street side by side
and you said something
look back into Rose’s eyes,
recall Wisteria as he kisses your neck,
capture that in the twist of his vines. Trim
him back, if need be, if he begins to grab at the
Name all of the bad advice
you’ve ever gotten—
start with Sean
and follow up with Mom and Dad
and Father and Pastor and Doris Lessing, Ernest Hemingway
and Dickens and brother and Robert
and Charlotte Brontë.
Don’t be obvious about it, though—
divide them up with their
names: divide love and power with Christ,
divide violence and anger with Jesus.
Imagine Dickens is your sense
of the divine,
put him on his knees with
his mouth open like St. Bernard
ready to accept the Virgin’s
milk shot across the room.
Pause him there for effect.
Name your anxieties
after playground equipment
that gets hot in the sun,
reserve “monkey bars” for something
you’re really ashamed of, like…
What is your merry-go-round?
Be bold about it:
shout the names,
call them in for dinner,
smear them all on pieces
of toilet paper, scribble
the names so you can’t make out the words—let the pen tear at the sheets
so Gertrude might well be
Gerald or Grampa or George Eliot, when it comes time to call her forth.
Reference the Catholic magisterium—
reference cloud formations—
reference Derrida and Foucault
and Lacan and Said. In your list,
name them after
the Seventh-Century saints
not accepted into
Catholic canon and remain
in English parish choirs—step on their graves smoothed by aimless feet, gnaw on
the bones of their sacred pointer fingers as you try hard to make out the words
rubbed clean by the palimpsest of time and tourism…
Recall the great chain of
call that “Marx.”
Imagine how it smells
under that great big beard—rub the grime between your thumb and forefinger and
intone the word
Name your children after fish:
they are Cod or Bluegill or
imagine them as they swim away—imagine them failing to breathe air,
imagine them on the deck of your brother’s old fishing boat
scalded against the wooden planks in the hot sun.
Name the ungraspable—name
it Steve. Put him into the
Dewey Decimal System under
Pretend what you can’t see over
the wall is named
Pretend the vast ethereal light
you run at is named
Beyoncé. No, something less
obvious. Name it God.
Don’t tell me these names
when you’ve got them
just have them, there, at the edge of your vision
—a murderous horde that whispers foot falls
echoing like friendly greetings.
Make them good company
you will need it.
Sean Alan Cleary teaches high school writing and English outside of Boston and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has an MFA from the University of Montana.