Issue 125, Winter 1992
I have forgotten my name. I am not Borges
(Borges died at La Verde, under fire)
Nor am I Acevedo, dreaming of battle,
Nor my father, bending over his book
Or taking death as it came to him one morning,
Nor Haslam, puzzling out chapter and verse
Of Holy Scripture, far from Northumberland,
Nor Suarez, having to face the charge of lancers.
I am barely the shade cast by those shades.
Those intimate and convoluted shades
I am their memory, but also someone else,
The other who lived, like Dante, like all men,
Once in a great while in paradise
As well as in many mandatory hells.
I am the flesh and the face I do not see.
I am, at day ’s end, the submissive man
Who arranges, more or less characteristically,
The voices of the pure Castilian language
So as to tell the stories that exhaust
All that goes by the name of literature.
I am he who leafed through encyclopedias,
The ten o ’clock scholar, hair now white or gray,
Prisoner of a houseful of letterless books
Who in the lengthening shadow tries to scan
A dread hexameter learned on the banks of the Rhône,
One who armed with a few tags of Phedrus and Virgil
Imagines himself saving a world that flees
From the water and the fire of the Wrath to come.
The past hounds me with images.
I am the sudden memory of the realm
Of Magdeburg or of two runic characters
Or of a couplet by Angelus Silesius.
I am the man who knows no other solace
Than bringing to mind some long gone moment of joy.
I am, at times, the joy, wholly undeserved.
I am he who knows he is no more than an echo,
He who wishes to die without a trace.
I am, perhaps, the one you are in sleep.
I am the thing I am. Shakespeare said it.
I am the one who outlives all the cowards
And fools that he has been.
NOTE: Parolles, a minor character in All ’s Well That Ends Well, endures a humiliation. Suddenly he is illumined by Shakespeare ’s light and speaks the words, “Captain I ’ll be no more / But I will eat and drink and sleep as soft / As captain shall. Simply the thing I am / Shall make me live.”In the next-to-last line can be heard an echo of the tremendous name I AM THAT I AM. (It is Buber ’s understanding that we have here a cunning evasion by the Lord so as not to reveal His true and secret name to Moses.) Swift, on the eve of his death, wandered from room to room, mad and solitary, saying over and over, “I am that I am.” Like the Creator, the creature is what he is, although with attributes.