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Need, by Dionisio D. Martinez

March 26, 1995

The things you need to live, the people

you love to death--what would you call them tonight

if your life depended on the truth? Let's say a man

breaks into your house, holds

a knife to your throat and makes you call

your wife by her proper name. Suppose you call out

another woman's name. By now all the names

have become one: hers. But you don't know

if you'd be this confident with a knife so close

that the light bouncing off the blade

makes you squint. The Eskimo who shields

his eyes from the sun rising on his white-

on-white world has no all-encompassing word

for snow; instead, he names

each kind of snow as if it bore no relation

to all the other kinds. My father never called

my mother by her name. He even avoided

terms of endearment, fearing they would gradually

take the place of that name. Calling her his love

would have torn all those ambiguous bonds that make

love remotely possible. My father would start to talk,

assuming that my mother knew she was being addressed.

From "Bad Achemy" (Norton: $17.95; 109 pp.) 1994 Reprinted by permission.

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