Tuesday, June 20, 2017

hearing the names of the valleys


Finally the old man is telling

the forgotten names

and the names of the stones they came from

for a long time I asked him the names

and when he says them at last

I hear no meaning

and cannot remember the sounds

I have lived without knowing

the names for the water

from one rock

and the water from another

and behind the names that I do not have

the color of water flows all day and all night

the old man tells me the name for it

and as he says it I forget it

there are names for the water

between here and there

between places now gone

except in the porcelain faces

on the tombstones

and places still here

and I ask him again

the name for the color of water

wanting to be able to say it

as though I had known it all my life

without giving it a thought

—W.S. Merwin
from The Rain in the Trees, 1988

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