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Moments Without Names cover
Moments Without Names - 2002

Moments Without Names

for Robert Alexander

I think of time as a waterfall without top or bottom, a waterfall tumbling through no place, dropping up, down, spreading sideways or no ways, a frozen waterfall, a waterfall lying on its side—the Milky Way containing not stars and planets but particles, and not particles that bleat and scream, or shout hello or cheer or call for help, not particles that are small bones or twirling leaves, but rather moments without names.

A moment without a name is a pucker like a fish mouth without a fish, and the universe is an endless crowd of fish mouths sipping at the placid surface of existence that maybe reflects sunlight or starlight, or reveals in its depths pebbles and small bones, yet is neither its reflection nor its revelation but the nothingness between the two.

And every moment without a name is a falling raindrop among all the other raindrops, all those transparent sacs containing diamonds of light—valueless, transitory, gone.

Moments without names are pockets of wind, of air. Pockets without coats or shirts, hung on instants of morning or evening. Pockets with holes through which coins of sunlight and moonlight fall to become wind and air.

And moments without names are the houses we build to keep out wind and air but which, instead, merely enclose them: emptiness within and without, and windows we stare through, seeing nothing. These are the windows from which we escaped to the city when young, only to find faces like our own, faces without names, that vanished the instant we passed them on the street—faces like the one we stare at each night when the window transforms into a mirror.

We doze in the big chair at three in the afternoon, but there is no chair, no minutes, no big or small, no afternoon. That is why we wake cranky at times, with a snort or a sniff, as if we smelled the nothingness we are, that odor of mineral dampness rising from the garden beyond the window where the earth clings to the stones embedded in it. Those places where stones and earth touch are also moments without names.

Do you remember that birthday party when you were small, not only the presents and the other kids jumping up and down and screaming, not the realization that you were passing over the border from one year to another, but the moment they tied the blindfold over your eyes and placed a strip of paper with a pin through it in your hand, whirled you round and round, and set you loose to grope your way through the darkness toward what you hoped was the paper donkey tacked to the wall? Every step you took, every hesitation, every doubt was another moment, and the donkey that wasn’t really a donkey, and the tail that wasn’t really a tail, and the border between the years, and the years themselves were moments that were gone as quickly as they arrived. Here’s my point: none of those birthday incidents would be moments without names if you had named them, even if you only called them “blindfold,” “donkey,” “tail,” “birthday 5,” or “birthday 7.” Years later, you could point to them for yourself or others, even though they snuffle, nose to the ground, shambling farther and farther from you. You see, wherever they are when you call to them, named moments will come, bounding to you from over hills and through woods, yapping and yipping, dozens of sniffers with lolling tongues, swarming into the courtyard and roaming restlessly around you, all of them awaiting your command, eager for you to name another moment. But even before you do, many of them will nudge your legs for attention with their snouts, their jaws gently offering you dead birds of unknown origin or startled animals with darting eyes, while others will wheel toward forest and ditch, raise a paw and turn statue, pointing you toward creatures you would never have noticed on your own, creatures who hide in the nearby brush or crawl through the shadows beneath the trees.

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