By Carole Maso
I named my child Mercy, Lamb.
Seraphina, the burning one.
I named my child the One Who Predicts the Future though I never wanted that.
I named my child Pillar, Staff.
Henry, from the Old High German Haganrih, which means ruler of the enclosure, how awful.
I named my baby Plum, Pear Blossom, Shining Path.
I named my child Rose Chloe—that’s blooming horse.
I almost named her Rose Seraphina, and that would have been a horse on fire.
Kami, which is tortoise. The name denotes long life.
So she might live forever.
And Tori—turtle dove.
I named my child Sorrow, inadvertently, I did not mean to. In the darkness I named her Rebecca—that is noose, tie or bind. In the gloom, I named my baby Mary—which means bitter, but I am happier than before and name my baby Day and Star and Elm Limb.
I named my child Viola, so that she might be musical. And Cecilia, patron saint of music, so she might play the violin.
Vigilant was the name of my child. Daughter of the Oath. Defiance. I name my child Sylvie so that she will not be frightened of the sunless forest.
I named my child War, by mistake. That would be Marcella or Martine. I named my child Ulrich—Wolf Power. Oh my son! After awhile though I wised up and passed on Brunhilde, Helmut, Hermann, Walter. And Egon—the point of the sword. I did not value power in battle and so skipped over Maude.
Instead I named my child Sibeta—the one who finds a fish under a rock. Sacred Bells, and Ray of Light. And Durga—unattainable. Olwynn—white footprint. Monica—solitary one. I named my child Babette, that is stranger. I named her Claudia: lame—without realizing it.
How are you feeling Ava Klein?
I named her Thirst. And Miriam—Sea of Sorrow. Bitterness. And Cendrine—that’s ashes. But I am feeling better now, thank-you. I named my child God is With Thee, though I do not feel Him.
I named her Isolde—Ruler of Ice. Giselle—Pledge and Hostage.
Harita, a lovely name, derived from the Sanskrit denotes a color of yellow or green or brown, a monkey, the sun, the wind and several other things.
I named her Clothed in Red, because I never stopped bleeding.
I named my son Yitzchak—that’s He Will Laugh.
And Isiah, Salvation.
I named him Salvation. And Rescue. And Five Minutes to Midnight.
I named my daughter Esme, the past participle of the verb Esmer, To Love. I named her She has Peace, and Shining Beautiful Valley. I named my baby Farewell to Spring, just in case.
I named my child Ocean, for that vast, mysterious shifting expanse. I named her Marissa-that’s of the sea—because naming is what we do I guess—there is a silliness to us.
I named my child Cusp and Cutting Edge and Renegade, to protect her from critics.
I named my child Millennia, because the future is now—whether we like it or not.
It is a distinct pleasure to be here on this earth naming with you. They lift a glass:
New Year’s Eve and the revelers. Dizzy, a little more than tipsy. At the edge of what unbeknownst to them has already happened, is already happening. It gives them a sepia tone. In their paper hats and goblets and blowers and confetti. Happy—that old sweet and hopeful New —there is not one day that I have not thought of you my child—Year. And time passes. As if we had a choice.
A strange photographed feeling. The black hood over the box on its legs. That wobbly feeling comes from champagne and last things, as the new century moves into us—1900.
Time immemorial—so they say.
What is to come unimaginable.
I named my baby Many Achievements, Five Ravens, Red Bird. I named her Goes Forth Bravely. Beautiful Lake. Shaking Snow, Red Echo, Walking by the River.
And we relish the saying. While we still can. And in the saying, inhabit our own vanishing, in the shadow language, its after image, a blue ghost in the bones, the passage of time, intimacy of the late evening—seated by a fire—embers.
Pipe smoke when you were a child comes from under the crack in the door, letting you know that Uncle Louis was near. The distant sound from your nursery of the revelers—they come in to peer at you in your crib in the eerie masks of Victoriana on the dying year’s last eve. Louisa and Herman move toward the lamplight. Oohs and aahs and then quiet. All disperse: a proper German gentleman, an American with a handlebar moustache, a chorus girl, a rabbit-faced widow, a bursar or stationmaster, a man in a turban, a geisha—a chic Orientalism. A sultry gypsy girl. They meander through the Ramble, weaving a little, with the odd premonition that they are all playing their parts—on this elaborate stage, the world hurtling forward, the year on the verge of turning. Snow begins to fall. The lights twinkling. They lift a glass.
New Year’s Eve and we dream—of a music, a book never seen before, at the edge of its obsolescence—the light pale opal. On the shards of story and sound. What is left now.
On the last day of the last year of the last one thousand.
And the dead stream by with their names. And all the ways they tried to say—
Clint Youle, 83, Early Weatherman on TV
H.S. Richardson, Heir to Vicks Cold Remedies
Hazel Bishop, an Innovator Who Made Lipstick Kissproof
Linda Alma, Dancer in Greek Movies
Walter O. Wells, a Pioneer in Mobile Homes
The future is already with us, whether we like it or not. Its advance implacable, and the revelers, having rested up that afternoon begin their foray. To play out the passing of time—thrilled, a little frightened, tinged with melancholy,
struck as they leave now by the intense desire to stay.
“To earn one’s death,” writes Mary Cantwell, 69, Author, “I think of it as a kind of parlor game. How, I shall ask my friends would you like to earn your deaths? And how would I like to earn mine?”
And we are charmed. I named my baby The Origin of Song— and then The Origin of Tears. Angel Eyes and Angel Heart. And Sweetie Pie and Darling One.
We’ve relished the naming—eased by it. And all the other games we made up, and all the things we thought to do. New Year’s Eve and the revelers…
At the end of the century a whisper. The Berlin Philharmonic plays seven finales in a row.
And the year 2000 is issued in, scraps of story and sound. That beautiful end-of-the-century debris.
We were working on an erotic song-cycle. It was called: The Problem Now of the Finale.
Now where the sense of key is weaker or absent altogether, there is no goal to be reached as in earlier finales—as a closing gesture then, what, what now?—a joke, a dissolve, a fast or slow tearing, intimations of a kind of timelessness, the chiming of bells, a wing and a prayer—Perhaps, a solemn procession toward—what then?
New Year’s Eve and the revelers.
Another sort of progress.
I named my child Farewell to Spring, just in case.
How strange the dwindling—pronounced as it is on this night where we deliberately mark its passage. Happy New Year. Lost in the naming, in the marking of time as it slips—distracted from the strangeness for a minute.
It’s been a privilege. And how quickly all of a sudden . . .Pipe smoke when you were a child.
Or the alarming forced jollity of a Shostakovitch finale—
Where are you going?
Where have you gone?
I named her Century. I named her Bethany—House of Figs. I named her Lucia to protect her from the dark. And Xing—which is Star. Dolphin, Lion, Lover of Horses.
I named her Arabella—Beautiful Altar, and
My child was made almost entirely of blood in the end. She slipped like Birds through my hands. They say ordinarily such a child is not named.
A Flock of Birds. Bells that Descend. A Rose on the Open Sea.
The pages of the baby name book ragged.
Nevertheless—I could not pass up
I wish I could decipher the Silence. Understand its Whims. The century a Chalice of Heartbreak. We put our lips to it and whisper.
And Bela—derived from a word that means wave—or a word that means time—or a word that means limit. It is also indicative of a type of flower, or a violin.
This work first appeared in Conjunctions: 34, “American Fiction: States of the Art.”
Register for Carole Maso’s reading on April 5, 2018, here: “The Bay of Angels: A Novel in Progress”