De nominibus – a poem by Jacob Riyeff

De nominibus

we argue about bellwort
in this late-night pizza joint,
sheltered from February cold.
well, not so much bellwort itself
as the value of knowing its common name.

you say it’s so we can ignore
the mysterium that is the verdant
respiring cellulose and chlorophyll
itself, and so, a sham.

i say it’s so we’re familiar
with bell-shaped pendent beauty,
impossible to ignore as we rush
by, obliged to say hello
to an old friend we recognize:

Adaming creation beyond the Fall.

i suppose our assumptions work
toward the same attentive end.
the familiar can breed contempt—
still: their names on my tongue.


Jacob Riyeff (, @riyeff) is a translator, poet, and scholar of medieval English literature. His primary interests lie in the western contemplative tradition and medieval vernacular poetry. He is a Benedictine oblate of Osage Deanery and lives on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side.


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