Green cactus; Red rock

Green cactus; Red rock
photo by Linda Hoffman Kimball

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Stuff of Names

The Stuff of Names
by Linda Hoffman Kimball

My sister Holly had a knack for naming things.
Her doll, named for its stuffing, was “Cotton.”
Her toy cat bore the moniker of
Holly’s no-nonsense, confident,
Approach to getting on in the world:
“Kick,” the cat.

For the most part my menagerie bore
Descriptive names:
“Plaid” the dog, white-headed but plaid-rumped.
Another dog earned “Orangie Jingles”
For his color and the bells in his ears.
(He was a lesser animal in the pack.)
Another plaid little dog,
Given to me by my Dad,
Received “Whiskers” for a name,
“Since,” I told my dad, “He doesn’t have any.”
I liked things whole and complete.

I wonder why I named my
Beloved elephant “Susie.”
In my mind she bore no resemblance
To my sister Susan who was
And therefore a lifetime’s more
Put together.
Also, Susan was neither gray and white,
nor endowed with huge, fluffy ears.

And, while my dad called our mother
“Sooz” frequently (though her name was Mary),
My elephant was a dearer confidant
And more comforting solace,
Willing to dab sorrows away anytime
With the pink end of her trunk.

When I began this musing on the playthings of my childhood, I didn’t realize I’d find something raw wanting to come out.
When I found the last stanza staring at me I was surprised and embarrassed. I hadn’t planned on baring my childhood grief so boldly. I appear to be dissing my mother for not attending to me sufficiently as a kid. Doesn’t every child think that? Surely my own children must have similar feelings (which may someday make their ways into surprising poems of their own). I believe my mom was doing the best she could. Where there were gaps, I think I experienced a version of what C.S. Lewis calls the “Inconsolable Longing.” If, in fact, we existed in a previous state of heavenly clarity and intelligence (and I believe we did), it isn’t particularly surprising that I’d find vestiges of a time before my memory. These were longings for solace from my Ur-Mother. I hope my children will forgive me my gaps and seek the embrace of their Ur-Mother, too. Their flawed, earthly mother has plenty of imperfect but mighty love for them. Imagine what the Real Stuff feels like! I suspect it’s elephantine by contrast.

No comments:

Post a Comment