Friday, January 9, 2009

Unnamable Things

The color of a sunset—the kind with flaming clouds thrusting up and up and up, and then that underlayment, perhaps of gold, perhaps of bronze; it is unnamable because the instant the eye identifies color, there it goes, it changes again, and the edges are a deep blue that wants to be purple, but there are peach and a soft silver color mixed in as well, roaring, raging colors that flare and holler hallelujah in great banners across the sky— No, the true color of such a sunset cannot be named.

Canadian geese fly overhead. I cannot name the tune they gabble to one another as they fly, but their song awakens an ache within me. I cannot name the distant marsh that beckons them for rest. I cannot name their tracks across the sky.

The tenderness held deeply within the naval.
The crescent of softest skin beneath a woman’s breast.
The story her baby tells himself as he gulps her milk.

At a waterfall, the water thunders from above, exerting pressures that cannot be named, but which can crush and carve solid rock, and all the while delicate tufts of maidenhair fern, slender as a thread, bow and wave in the breeze and mist, mere inches from the ferocious physics of falling water. I do not know how to name the courage of that fern.

The quiet peace in the night of a woman curled up behind her sleeping husband, absorbing the warmth and the quiet comfort of his sleep to her insomnia, this has no name.

Nor does the tender, nameless fat on a baby’s foot, nor his quiet gurgle of joy.

The dreams of hibernating bears have no names, not even among bears. The path that calls a salmon is as sure and true as spider silk, but neither the spider nor the salmon can name their way.

In a stream flowing to the sea, there is a place where sweet water mingles with salt, and that border, neither salt nor sweet, is unnamable. Waves may not be named, nor sands upon the shore, nor stars above. Though men may say they have named stars, constellations, galaxies, the stars know better; this is the foolishness of men, for stars may not be named. And on clear nights, when the stars lean down to admire their reflection within the dark mirror of quiet mountain lakes, their vanity, too, is unnamable.

Fifty years away, I still hear my grandfather’s voice singing lullabies to the child that was me. Who can name this gentle mystery—his quiet croon, his kindness, ambassadors, even now, across these years and beyond death’s veil?

A rooster’s crow at three a.m.
The ways that prayers are answered.
The ways that prayers remain unanswered.

I knew a woman who lived on the corner. Years ago her husband died; I did not know her then, but she lived on the corner, and the neighbors spoke of it. Over the years she and I became acquaintances, then friends. Then I invited her to dinner every Sunday because she was lonely. She kept cats, and she wouldn’t let anyone in her house. Until the day we read in the newspaper that she had been arrested because she had been an accomplice to the murder of her husband, all those years ago. This really happened, but to this day I do not know how to name this truth: I have entertained a murderer unawares.

The times when fear hangs like a knife in the night, and sleep is gone, and every answer to the question—what if?—screams out its unnamable name.

2 comments:

Lisa Lou said...

Kathy, I loved this! There have been multiple times in my life where I felt some sort of emotion, I guess I can only call it god-like, where I've wanted to laugh and cry and sing and be quiet all at the same time.

Katie said...

After reading Lisa's comment just now I have come to the conclusion (once again) that the Lewis children were raised to be better behaved than I was. Because there is Lisa leaving a thoughtful, complementing comment when I had it in my head to tell you that you've got to be careful speaking for salmon and stars and- let's face it- bears. You never know when one of them might come for a complaint about something you said. And I know I sure wouldn't want a bear after me for misrepresentation.