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Sample Poems by Mary-Sherman Willis

From "The Phenomenology of the Name"


In the beginning was your name, which we gave you to make you
        a part of us and apart from us.

As with our DNA, we fixed our own names in you; from your name    
    you derived your tag, CONE:

You, consonantally slurred; a graff writerís nom de paint stick,
        nom de Krylon, de Rusto Fat Cap.

You, ice creamís cornucopia, womanís breast, traffic barrier, dunce hat,
    a spray nozzle, the bowl of a bong.

You, who exist in the dimensional world, a piece of solid geometry
    steady on its base or a hollow funnel.

And you, an experiment in phenomenology. I parsed and puzzled it.   
    You explained, itís C-plus-ONE:

your first initial plus you, unique. Or rather, The One. See One.       
    See me. Or, donít see me.

When you were home, how well could I see you? My body radio-tuned
    to your foot-thud up the stairs,
the floor-creak overhead, your desk chairís wheel-rumble, speakersí
    gangsta-thump, I felt your presence
on my skin, but you were a blur to me. I may have been blind, but not
    uninformed. Our doors were open to you.
I had my own sneaking-around girlhood to dwell on. I paid attention.
    Too much attention, you complained.
Hyper-vigilance, a shrink explained. But we believed that at sixteen
    we couldnít keep you
safe at home, or kick you out, yet. I searched your room, ďcleaningĒ it.
    That first experiment
in phenomenology quickly yielded up your stash, but spooked me less
    than the vodka on your breath.

In the parable, as the father sat waiting for his prodigal boy to return
    to him, the mother surely

did not sequester herself in the tent, carving a hole in her heart.
    You were avoiding home

and so began my hunt for you, to know who you were, inhaling
    and tasting. Not just looking

but seeing. Like a cat attuned to the quick odd movement, a dog
    nosing the trail, a dancer

stepping to her partner, I was a mother vibrating through the city
    to your telling absence.

Itís not enough to say, if only I could give my angels charge over you
    lest you dash your foot against a stone.

I had to find you. You had left your marks, first on my body, my heart,
    and now on the city itself.

I leashed the dog and walked the streets looking for your tag. Intentionality
    proceeds from the subject,
said Heidegger.

I (the subject) walked and looked (predicate) for you (object), or rather
    for your tags.

If my intention was to see you, I must let you manifest yourself to me.
    Let that which shows itself be seen

from itself in the very way in which it shows itself, from itself,
he said.
    And now I saw you all around me:

your tags on walls, the sidewalk, light posts, curbs Iíd never noticed.
    Like Hanselís pebbles, they wended

in a line from home, down the streets and alleys of Dupont Circle
    as if to tease me, to show me the way

you went, what you could do without me, how I could not stop you.
    Or were they to lead you home?

Calculus, Latin for pebble, a chip off the old block tumbled over
    time and distance.

On the gridded sidewalk each step is an integer. Step on a crack,
    break your motherís back.

drop a pebble. Step, here was the calculus of you moving away
    from me, each of us an entity, yet linked.

Here was your motion and rate of change, and here my continuity,
    and this my paradox:

if every step I took brought me halfway to you, how many steps
    must I take to reach you?

What was my limit, where we converged as a function of time?
    The textbook says, for any fixed

standard of accuracy, you can always be sure to be within that limit,
    provided you have gone far enough.