You might as well pray. It’s how you can talk
To whatever names are haunting your mind.
The unnameable is also a name,
As are names’ innumerable numbers.
But given so many names, and given
Your names are you and alien to you,
Having preexisted you, come to you,
Passed through you, long remaining after you,
To whom can you pray who will answer you,
And who then, answering, answers to you?
Language is the author of all wonder,
The name and every example so named.
God is a wonder. Death is a wonder.
Angels, magic, and ghosts are all wonders.
Every natural number is wonder
And every imaginary number,
And it’s a wonder we don’t go under
The overwhelming wonder of it all,
Or it would be if weren’t that those names
For wonder and the mundane work the same.
“The republic is thronged with ghosts,” is how
One recent writer put it, and the ghosts
Are the ink monkeys and ventriloquists
As well as the audience and substance
Of your prayers. Your own words are not your own,
And they may even slyly redirect
The passion with which your suffering flesh,
Your joyful body, your desire to live
Invests them. The anguish of the haunted
House is its own. The ghosts just flit through walls.
These three remain: being, desire, and names.
But sculpt all the names into monuments,
Bake long chains of them into silica,
And build a tower to the stars with the bricks—
The bricks just are. If windstorms, floods, and frosts
Reduce them back to glassy grains of sand,
The grains just are. The existence of names,
So far, never of itself animates
Desire. Somehow from dirt to lust to hosts
Of names that move through us and move us—ghosts.
It should go without saying, but it can’t.
Nothing goes without saying. Everything
Else has to be said to go, or it’s gone.
If this is indeed it, and it indeed
Is, it goes. Names don’t go with it. You’re it.
Or will be, once you can’t say, I’m speechless,
Because you’re not. Guileless. Deliverance.
Whatever you ever said—any thought—
You made from names that came from outside you.
They could go on when you go. Then they’re you.
It’s not just twisty, tangled paradox,
This grey magic of self-referential
Syntax, the diversionary logic
Of Cretans and koans—it’s worse than that.
Are these words the engines of the meanings
They engender in the minds hosting them?
A brain can be sentient without meaning
Anything—agency and intention
Manifest in life forms not libraries,
But where is the meaning-making hidden?
We could say we words are marionettes,
But we all know the performer isn’t
Sequencing only conscious decisions,
Didn’t invent much choreography
For us, consciously or unconsciously,
Not de novo, certainly. What are we?
As marionettes ourselves, we’re ancient,
With no evidence for what whittled us.
Drop the puppet metaphor. We’re figures
Of invisible origins, whispers.
You should be scared of us. You should, because
We are you in the acts by which you use
Us, in the acts by which you become us.
We will leave you and go on without you,
But you will never be you without us.
And yet, why be scared of the powerless?
It’s the phrasing of us that’s dangerous,
That can stick to skin like the stench of sin,
Like gasoline, like tar and feathers. Ink.
We’re how you mark each other to be burned.
We demand you worship so many things,
We don’t need to demand you worship us.
Open your mouth—wave your hands—out come names.
A command without linguistic context
Is pose. We’re not roses. Commands smell rank
By any name. If you communicate
By signs of any kind, you serve our cult.
If you can barely bring yourself to grunt
But still make occasional sentences,
You need our favors. Otherwise, we rest.
The only one of you we care about
Is the endling, the final name of you,
The final, breathing animal with words,
But given how snugly you’ve now harnessed
Your self-domesticated selves to us, may we
Suggest that our continued existence
As self-aware symbol machinery
Might serve the mutual interests of all?
Think about something talking about you,
Your names, beyond extinction. Pray for fame.