Knowing

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By Alfred A. Yuson

He knew his plants, his stars,
their names.

Figures of memory
escaped him — light years
bridging distance,
degrees of scintillation,
ecliptics
in avoidance of meteors.
Or: variants and hybrids.

But he knew what they ought to be called,
their identities beyond cluster or grove.

Sometimes, never mind the Latin.
What was essential was visible to the tongue
when pointing out a particular, not just there
but that one, that blue-pea vine with flowers
that were closer to violet and shades of indigo,
and were edible you could adorn salad with
them, blue-pea vine flowers — a conversation
piece they make.

“Ternate,” you say. “That’s what
we call them in the field, locally, though they must
have come from the Moluccas and not Cavite.”
When you check it out in a cyclopedia,
the English countryside blooms with a fresh tag.

It was important, to himself he claimed,
to know the names of things.
To call a philtrum such,
when you scratched below your nosetip,
a lawrence when you saw one shimmering
ahead on that dry asphalt road in summer.

When you’re asked what that road is
you have to know its name, too.
And what to call that sort
of sinuous stretch where lawrences often occur.

I don’t know, a lawrentian? Well, perhaps it won’t
matter much when it’s that sort of sorting
that even requires a neologism. Let the Japanese
sort out their tofu and their fugu. We know mahi-mahi
is yellow-fin tuna. And we don’t have it in Esperanto.

Making acquaintance of a restaurant, it depends
on the region, in the shadow of which volcano,
whether the shellfish served
are called this or that,
the coconut part grated or drained,
before that kind
or this kind of chili or cayenne is minced or julienned.

It helps to know all their names.

Montage Vol. 11 • September 2008