Naming of Parts — Henry Reed

I’ve had this poem stuck in my head for a few days now.

It has echoes of childhood for me–this is nose and the mouth and the eye–but the topic is anything but. It gives us all of the particulars, but never the whole; our understanding has to supply, maybe immediately or not until the end, what the whole is. That’s very much what poetry is to me: a naming of parts that adds up to something unstated, supplied by the reader.

Naming of Parts

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
               And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
             Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
              Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers
              They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
             For today we have naming of parts.

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Thoughlet on 20 Seconds of Joy

Watching 20 Seconds of Joy, about BASE jumper Karina Hollekim, I understood more than I thought I would that urge to jump off cliffs, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes not, in an effort to feel or not feel the terror of living.

I wrote that and I thought, Did I mean the terror of dying? But no, I mean the terror of living. I mean those last two lines of the Mary Oliver poem that I love, The Summer Day, which I am going to totally spoil for you if you haven’t read it yet (go read it—the last lines were like that first plunge of a roller coaster for me: equal parts instinctual terror and excitement. My chest still clenches like I’m having an asthma attack when I read it, but not as scary because I can still breathe.):

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The terror of living is that it will end in dying and I won’t have done anything worthwhile with my one wild and precious life. That so much of life passes in a boring haze of work, or worse, being wished away, faster to 5 pm, faster to the weekend. That I haven’t been kind enough to my mother, haven’t had enough sex with my husband, haven’t finished writing this book yet…