Thursday, December 3, 2015

World Without Names: a poem

Here's a poem I wrote recently, while taking the Amtrak train from Fullerton to San Clemente...

Taking the train to San Clemente,
looking out the window
at the passing urban/suburban
landscape,
taking in, through my eyes,
enormous amounts of raw data,
too much data,
all those buildings,
and all the things they’re made of—
all those roof tiles,
all that stucco,
corrugated metal, bricks,
cement molded into various shapes,
plus every leaf on every tree
and shrub, each a little different,
plus cars and utility vehicles
of various makes and models,
power lines, asphalt,
mysterious warehouses
housing unknown data variables.

Across the aisle,
a baby stares wide-eyed
out the window,
taking all this in,
her head occasionally
lolling around to catch
the face of her mother—
something familiar amidst
this ocean of new information
whizzing by at 40 miles per hour,
too fast to take all this in.

Years ago,
I left home for a different city
and lost my mind.
It was as if all the familiar
schema I’d used
to make sense of the world
fell apart, crumbled
when I became aware of it.
I remember wandering
those unfamiliar streets,
wide-eyed, overwhelmed,
unable to make everything
fit together.
It was unpleasant, unbearable
to suddenly remove the
seeing-eye glasses of categories,
and take in pure, raw data,
enough to crash the system,
and my system crashed.

When I returned home,
nothing made sense anymore,
like wandering through
a surreal dreamland,
my eyes two giant
data collectors without
the hardware to process it,
sort it into meaningful categories,
and move on.
I could stare at a building,
a leaf, a sidewalk for way longer
than is deemed normal.
I’d drunk the wine of astonishment
and staggered around
in a daze.

I didn’t understand how people
could casually move
through this world
and call it familiar.
It’s that moment when
the scientist or the theologian
realizes that his whole
schema was just
something people made up
and called it “truth.”

To see the world
with the wide-open,
schema-less, astonished
eyes of that baby,
to see the world before
we started naming things,
to acknowledge that
all this data is way too much
for a mind to encounter.

That’s how I feel this morning,
remembering the blessing
and the curse that was given to me
when I was born into this.
Taking in, through the frame
of a train window,
this astonishing, bewildering
world without names.

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