“The Miracle of Naming” by Richard Westheimer

Richard Westheimer

THE MIRACLE OF NAMING

When I read of the murdered woman, Fern Feather,
I thought of the myth of Icarus—because Fern had wings, too,
or at least feathers—although hers were ones she’d
grown herself, were not sewn on by some other.

She’d discovered a way through the labyrinth of her man’s body,
found the Ariadne’s string of coming out and followed it, blinked
back tears in the bright outside, was greeted as a kind of light,
as a hot woman who warmed the world—until some guy she knew

put a knife in her for being a her. When I asked my daughter
Fern’s preferred pronouns, Many/all, she said. Multitudes,
I thought, a miracle of naming. I go for a walk outside

where impossible dandelions push through the pavement of our lane.
They somehow have survived the crush of cars and me walking,
from here to the mailbox and back. Their butter yellow is splashed
with muddy pothole water, their leaves bruised but still feeding

the roots they’ve put down. No one welcomed these blossoms
and some neighbors would have me poison the ones that thrive,
here and in the yard. I’ve been slow to appreciate them myself,
some days digging them out with a spiked tool, others

sitting beside them, listening to them whisper their rugged stories,
how they’ve been around since before my kind created time. I go back
inside, call my daughter again, ask about her coming out, ask about Fern,
talk about the world of spiked tools and poison and naming.

She tells me of all the blossoms in her crushed world and all
the impossible buds that will push through and bloom again
and the one who won’t. Her partner joins the call, shows me
the brisket they are preparing for Seder, tells me that

these tough cuts of meat take time. I savor
that they prepare such a fine meal together
and, even though I am vegetarian, I ask for the recipe.

from Poets Respond
April 17, 2022

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Richard Westheimer: “I called my daughter, to learn more about the life of Fern Feather, a murdered trans woman, a friend to many in and out of my daughter’s Vermont LGBTQ community. I learned a lot, including some things about myself I should have learned long ago. If you are interested in learning more, Out in the Open is an excellent Vermont based organization that supports and connects rural LGBTQ people. You can find out more about their work here.” (web)

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