Karl Patten

Sometimes when I see water running
Everything is only part of everything,
And names are like that, slip away,
Get forgotten. The face, of course,
But I can’t remember his name.

My friend never drops names, she loses
Them, they roll away from her, marbles
That somehow vanished at recess.

She worries about her lost tags,
And she’s right to. We’re stuck with names,
The first and least-chosen things we spend
Life with, they’re cut into our gravestones.

Names come back. Something to whisper
When sleep won’t come, the past creeping
Through darkness right up to
The pillow—Jimmy Riddle, who was he?

Far better than numbers. I refuse
To memorize my social security number,
Though I know if I’d been in Buchenwald
I would have learned my blue wrist.
I would also have maintained my name.

COMMENT: As with most of my poems, in “Names” I simply let the poem run on its own lines (pun not intended but I’ll take it) meaning that I don’t know where the poem is going and I certainly don’t know how it will end.

This poem ran along pretty easily, especially when I introduced my friend into it. Then I began thinking generally about what names are like, and next brought it right up to the personal (I think Jimmy Riddle was the right fielder for the 1937 New York Giants). But names led to numbers, which lack individual meaning. However, that gave me the end, allowing me to fantasize myself in a Nazi concentration camp with a tattooed number on my wrist, but for me the last word had to be my name.

Most poems are not so easy to reconstruct, but keeping this one simple and straightforward made the above happen.


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