All the places Lydia lived
after “Saying Your Names” by Richard Siken
Houseplant names, names for stray cats, long names,
grass names, names given in witness protection,
cocktail names I would point to on the menu,
so I wouldn’t have to say them out loud. Virus names.
Names they chose for themselves.
Names of favorite songs, forgotten names,
names called out to children in trees and on trampolines,
or shouted upstairs at dinnertime, calling you down,
calling you outside to a blanket and a picnic.
Names of saints who cut off pieces of their bodies.
Names of French cheeses, names read in obituaries,
names carved into trees and mossed over.
Your middle name, my middle name.
Names for the flowers that are actually
a hundred tiny flowers in the shape of a globe.
Names turned over in your mouth while you drive,
names given to the insects inside houses,
scientific names for endangered species, pen pal names.
I found Lydia hiding in each of these places, here
and at the tips of carrots lengthening in the garden,
in the wooden corner behind the canvas I painted
while watching her paint too. She was enveloped
in morning fog across Kansas, she was pressed
between pages of a book I meant to read,
and she began to flatten there. A long poem
makes her real again, gives her shape and dimension,
a form that doesn’t disintegrate upon waking.
In the city, a stranger drove us along the curved highway
and I said her name over and over, so quiet
that I couldn’t hear myself over the whir of the engine.
She was looking out the window, her cheeks blushed
with the light from the pink sinking sun,
and I was looking at her cheeks.
Somewhere in Michigan, there is a white fabric angel
with my name embroidered in pink. Somewhere
in Maine there is a moment of beach
where she traced her name once. Names washed away
by ruthless, steady tides. Names braided into DNA.
Names of girls I liked before I knew I liked them,
Lydia’s name before I ever learned it.
I have the thought that she would be perfect
if only she liked to swim. Paint color names
used to depict shimmering water. Phthalo blue,
cerulean, periwinkle, ultramarine, steel blue, cyan,
sea foam, titanium white, robin’s egg. Indigo.
I am the scribe of my own life. I try to pour memories
here, watch them leak onto the page. I want more poems
than research papers. At the edge of my time here,
I will carry both. Names scribbled on napkins and receipts.
Names of authors who were runners-up for prizes
and titles. Names of those prizes and titles.
Moth names, names for nighttime in every language,
names abbreviated or changed slightly, for anonymity.
Say my last name first, the way you’d see it published.
Say my middle name, if you remember it. Hers
is the only way I find her. Names of places she emerged
in dreams: country clubs, mini golf courses, bedrooms
with slanted ceilings, drugstore makeup counters,
fields where I’d watch her play, my toes shivering.
Booths at nameless restaurants, trains between dimensions,
trains with shifting light, indoor pools, the crumbling curb
where she told me I was beautiful to her. Names
of the party houses we traipsed toward in college.
Names of strangers who would send me a message
when I left my wallet all around campus, strangers
who never took my money. Initials of everyone I kissed,
learning later how few actually mattered. Lydia’s,
I replayed like a record, Joni Mitchell’s voice
dizzying itself in the morning, the Chelsea Morning.
Names of mornings. Christmas morning. The morning
after. Morning sickness. Mourning sickness. All the places
Lydia lived, folded up on a map. All the trails I took
to find her.
Shelby Tuthill is a queer therapist, in training as a graduate student in Colorado, USA. She loves the mountains and hates the weird fitness culture there. Among her hobbies are gardening, painting, and writing gay poems. Her favorite form is the sestina.