After a reading from my new novel Never Coming Back the other night, I spoke with a woman in the audience about synesthesia, that syndrome whereby senses cross and fuse with each other. “So as someone is talking, you don’t simultaneously see the words they’re saying inside your head?” I asked the woman, and she shook her head.
“Then how do you understand them?” I asked her. “Is it just. . . sound? Sound that makes sense in your ears and translates itself into meaning?” She nodded.
Everything I say, and everything others say to me, transcribes itself instantly into words that run across the bottom of the movie screen in my mind. I can’t imagine how I would ever understand language otherwise, and the woman I was talking with couldn’t imagine how this happens for me. Our conversation reminded me of this poem by Maggie Smith, a poem that stays with me for many reasons: because I love flowers and their names, because I also love my children who can’t ever remember the names of the flowers I’ve grown in our garden their whole lives long, and because, in the end, I guess it’s the sight of them both that matters, and not the names we give them.
Goldenrod, by Maggie Smith
I’m no botanist. If you’re the color of sulfur
and growing at the roadside, you’re goldenrod.
You don’t care what I call you, whatever
you were born as. You don’t know your own name.
But driving near Peoria, the sky pink-orange,
the sun bobbing at the horizon, I see everything
is what it is, exactly, in spite of the words I use:
black cows, barns falling in on themselves, you.
Dear flowers born with a highway view,
forgive me if I’ve mistaken you. Goldenrod,
whatever your name is, you are with your own kind.
Look—the meadow is a mirror, full of you,
your reflection repeating. Whatever you are,
I see you, wild yellow, and I would let you name me.
For more information on Maggie Smith, please click here.