Here's the first poem I wrote as a creative writing grad student way back in 1997. The assignment was to craft a poem that concerned names or naming.
on Carl von Linné
A bird turns in a man’s pale hands.
It is ruffled from handling, its feathers
still clotted with dust and blood.
Candlelight. The glint of ink,
scritch of nib against paper.
Carolus Linnaeus knows the mind of God;
he writes a vast unspoken Latin mass.
Kingdom, class, order, genus, species:
bits of life mounted, labelled,
preserved like Bibles under glass.
In the Museum of Natural History,
species rattle through the sunlit halls:
Canis dirus, Corpus christi.
Bones mingle with brown plaster casts.
Linnaeus stoops before a plaque,
Lines like a basilica’s draw his eyes
up a neck improbably long;
the lizard rears like the old man’s mind.
He watches the believing world pass by—
fathers expounding heretic theories,
mispronouncing the names
to attentive waist-high daughters.
He sighs. Contented their gazes yet rise,
he notes that, faced with old bones
and all their fleshless spaces,
we resort to his language of praise,
those Latinate names grasping
(pterodactylus—a wing, a finger)
at what little we know.