Learning Their Names as They Go

Kristin Berger, Oregon

An inverted below the nose is the sign
we use to say Walrus
two tusks beneath scruffy cheeks,
like an old man with kind eyes
waiting to be noticed. He is
one more illustration in a child’s book
full of disappearing wonders—
beluga, narwhal, murre
their spoken names the receding mantras
we also learn, more words than species,
more ways of saying the thing that is
becoming less than paper and ink.

But my daughter loves him, the Walrus.
How could she not,
floating on his thin berg
towards the hot, open sea?
Love at first sight and every glance thereafter—
she points him out on each page,
his toothy simplicity mirroring
her mouth still accumulating pearls,
her emerging, buoyant wonder:
She makes the sign
that is more-than-Walrus,
more than even his own name
for his melting, heavy-hearted self.

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First published in Kristin Berger, For the Willing (Finishing Line Press, 2008). Copyright © 2008 Kristin Berger