Of Names to Disguise the Dead

Miriam Bird Greenberg

For almost forty years I have been alive,
and the magnitude of my unknown grows
before me, its shape the shadow

of an occult creature occluded, eclipsed,
unmade by its elder. Certainty shows

itself little by little. It is something
I cannot recognize until it has dressed
in a faraway forest and passed close by

in its now-familiar costume. Even then,
twice as often it is another thing, horse

in a human’s fine charmeuse gown or golem
sewn of glassine envelopes still printed
with the names of herbs

they once contained. Of the strangers
who made poultices of powdered root

and masticated leaves, what can they know
of certainty, shambling shape stitched
with its own bone-thorn needle? Of available

materials it makes itself
into new animals, intruders to dreams

which speak as a symphony, wolfishly,
or like a dog

does after its years are nearly gone, rib-
cage showing its cradle’s shape. Still it claims
the dreamer’s voice for its own.


Art by Maggie Nowinski.

Miriam Bird Greenberg is the author of IN THE VOLCANO’S MOUTH, which won the 2015 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and ALL NIGHT IN THE NEW COUNTRY. Recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Poetry Foundation, she’s written about the nomads, hitchhikers, and hobos living on America’s margins, and is currently at work on a fieldwork-derived manuscript about economic migrants and asylum seekers of Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, she’s the 2017 writer-in-residence at the National University of Singapore’s University Scholars Programme.

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