Unutterable Name: David Whyte


Cross-currents and tumbling desire
of aspens in a summer wind,
shimmering in a rustle and whisper

of leaf undersides turned pale
yellow, each upper side
a trembling of bright green.

The whole frame a lit firework
of feeling where all
surfaces and shoulders of wood

and leaf touch and quiver
to the wind’s
quaking unspoken desire.

Not to be lightly spoken of.
Your species name
so common on our tongue

the mind’s eye forgets the continued
revelation of your kind.
A single branch, a copse, a nest of bright

copper for the dying year. All the
forests of the world
were wild wood once and proclaim

the leafy hope and snares of human paradise.
The wild wood, bramble, columbine,
the oak tree’s deciduous stability of half-light.

In your branches the robin and the wren,
the crows, the rooks, the owls, the sparrow-
hawk gliding the fine speckled corridors of light.

Of all your many worlds I’ll start by naming home,
this sharp evergreen night’s
rough-barked verticality of totem and grey wood

lifted two hundred feet to a cold sky,
its grey clouds unseen above the world’s
green turn of pine and hemlock, fir and cedar

shadowing the paddled needle beds
in their brown sleep.
Even here, Pan’s mad flute wakes them all,

a scurry of chipmunks and tremulous mice,
a moment’s panic before the
creaking whine of a branch lifts the hair

straight on the neck, the owl’s prey screams
in discovered claws and the patient empty
darkness of the deep wood returns to quiet.

Even then, the still temple of the northern night
opening its doors to the first delicate light
and the nightjar burring at a branch edge

is nothing to the jungle’s southern tumult and tropic
dark panoply of explosive sound.
In that equatorial fusion of heat and noise,

where a scream would be lost in the whistling,
cawing, shuddering, sighing
rippling, spider-monkeyed laugh and great shaking

of the canopy’s jungle dark essence,
there lies that eternally moving
half-hidden, essentially frightening

forest of our own inner night. Down below,
the dream of those dark limbs turning
now feminine, now snake-like, erotically

refusing to be found, leads us down
into that glistering world-wide
treasure of wetness and wild abandon, the marsh.

The dank water’s cool refusal of dryness
a sworn enemy to the clarity
our yearning demands, every footstep

filled with mud, every feeling a mere mushroom
subsumed by damp, a fever
of scents, sounds and recollection, how the bark

smells, how the frogs breathe, how the greens
seem darker still. How the faint
brushing sting of nettle feels on passing skin.

The stagnant still fullness of it all with no place
to rest, sit, camp, cook, build,
get in, get out, lie down with self or other.

The infuriating self-satisfied independent
non-human presence
of this methane-flitted, black and fiery

incandescence of wetness eschewing our praise,
resting into its own eternal wet grave
of damp hidden mischief. The damned and lovely swamp.

Not forgetting for one moment the dry desert
branches of the world’s
desiccated, rough-barked, wax-leafed elders.

The pinon, chaparral, boll-weed and wind-dried
dust-loving Joshua, even the names
have a dry mouth salted by heat and smothered

by thirst. Tenacity a prize of their kind,
living patiently through the hard
baked inhospitable prison of eternal summer,

and they need, we still do not believe it,
just the one, gifted, single drop
of fecund rain swimming through red earth

to break out in a blood red, snow white
festival of still flowers.
Or a lit inextinguishable fire of perfect yellow.

All your many kinds are filled with our stories.
We know you, name you
Aspen, Rowan, Linden, Oak, and remember

Pan’s stable of haunting desire,
Kevin’s seat of still prayer,
Buddha’s explosive clarity beneath

the Bodhi’s protecting shadow of knowledge.
Christ’s arms like branches
on the still sapling of longing and loss.

Your stories are our welcome night sign
of stop and rest and sky and stars
and forgotten sleep where we wake again

to find we are surrounded, embellished,
frighted, nourished,
sheltered, restored, rejected and inhabited

by – how shall I ever say your name?
Wood, trunk, branch, leaf,
boreal harmony of green in-breath,

my hands clapping, eyes opened,
mouth attempting the song
of your unspeakable gifts and grace

again and again- the full hidden
not to be said, mysterious
and unutterable name of your full breath. Tree.

[David Whyte. River Flow: New & Selected Poems Revised Edition
(Kindle Locations 887-890). Many Rivers Press. Kindle Edition.]