The three names
​The name that is bound
to a man’s wrist at birth
is simply a device
for humiliation

scrawled by a senile hand
in the family bible

called out amid jeers
in a schoolroom
smelling of chalkdust and ammonia

embossed on a card which he
presents to doubtful strangers

it is the chipped white plate
laid before him
night after graceless night

Purer than the name he inherited
the name a man takes
is a cipher
which awakes in him a longing
unspeakably great

Murmuring to himself The hills
he sees a grassy slope
overrun with honeysuckle
in which a hidden meadowlark peals

Even when he overhears that name
pronounced casually on a city bus
everything vanishes
except the slope
the overpowering fragrance
bird-song like a bell

What overtakes a man
is also a name
but throughout his life it resembles
a tiny gray butterfly
which passes unnoticed

at a window of the church
where he is married

in a field of flowers
where he and his children play tag

on a loaf of bread
during his retirement picnic

One day his granddaughter traps
the butterfly
brings it to him in a jar
and resumes her play

Shaking it into his palm
he notices on one wing
a tiny sun
on the other a moon

The wings beat no
faster than his heart

The dust rubbed off between his fingers
falls into his shadow

and a wind rises
bearing the mingled aroma
of ammonia and honeysuckle

Deep in the hill
he hears a muffled tolling
and cries out to his old wife

who glancing up from her laundry tub
notices nothing
in the withered field
except a butterfly floating toward her
tiny and gray as an ash
In case of my death
                                                                      for my wife and son
Forget my hands
which were not tender enough
to smooth the years from your face
not quick enough to gather you back in my arms
after the worst accusals were thrown

Forget my mouth
which stayed grimly shut
when it should have rained lullabies
which could not stop babbling
when it should have been pressed to your wounds

Forget my eyes
weak    watery
always glancing over your shoulder
Forget my ears
always overhearing a ghostly grief
at the core of your laughter

Forget my body
and its ludicrous night-noises
snores    belches from both ends
the crackle of dry joints
the thrashing in sleeplessness
and in violent dreams

If you search for me
in this cold white expanse
you may see me huddled
behind these very words
an exile behind barbed wire

Don’t try to touch my cheek
your sleeve will snag
guards in black greatcoats will surround me
and you may hear a whisper

                    This has nothing to do with you
                    take the child and go

but I will have already turned away
shuffling obediently
behind the dark figures in the snow