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What’s in a Name


after “Wunderlich” by Mark Wunderlich


It’s not the aromatic herb that means remembrance.
It’s spelled R-O-S-E-M-E-R-R-Y, which means
it is almost always misspelled by others,
even though I spell it out. Even though I say,
Merry, as in merry go round—
as in Merry Christmas. I give up often
on the spelling because I have learned
I’m happier that way.
It means granddaughter of Rose, who
was one of sixteen children in Illinois,
who cared for all her siblings and so never
finished school herself. Rose who cleaned
homes and vacationed in Vegas,
who waltzed and wore red nail polish
and made fancy Slovenian nut bread
she slathered with soft butter.
It means granddaughter of Merry
who planted vast gardens and drank
Bloody Marys and arranged the flowers
for the church altar on Sundays. Merry
who had a gift for painting and sang
soprano in the choir. It means “too sincere.”
It means “cries when she says I love you.”
It means “can’t understand sarcasm without help.”
It means “unable to wink with the left eye”
and “afraid of driving Red Mountain Pass.”
The name was once listed on the gym wall
in Pewaukee Elementary School
as the reigning toe touching champion,
because Rosemerry also means short legs,
overly flexible hamstrings, and long arms.
In the mid-’90s, McDonald’s chose the name
for a Happy Meal Toy—a pink-haired sky dancer
with long green legs. Now, the name is found
on recipe cards around the world
for ginger cookies, zucchini pie and dark rye bread.
It’s carved in an aspen tree on Lookout Mountain
and is not tattooed on anyone’s arm.
There are no Greek myths about Rosemerry—
no stories in which she is chased
by a god and then turned into a bird or a tree,
though sometimes I hear Rosemerry stories
that sound like myths to me.
The name means “unable to wear clothes with patterns.”
It means “quitter of ballet.”
It means “always two hours shy of an extra five minutes.”
Recently, a friend pointed out it’s nearly homophonous
with “rows merrily” as in “down the stream,”
but unfortunately it’s also synonymous with seasickness,
carsickness, airsickness and now a near constant
feeling of being rocked, even on dry land.
And though it does not mean “easy going,”
it does mean “loyal, devoted.”
It means “stubborn.”
It means “willing to try again.”
It means a girl who wanted to grow into her name.
It means a woman who carries her grandmothers with her,
remembers them everywhere she goes.

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One Journey

this crumb trail of syllables

worthy of decade-long explorations—

your name

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To say a person’s name is to keep them alive.
–Ancient Egyptian belief

It is odd how much I want to see the mummy,
though I have seen it before. It is the same
as it was then, dark and stiff and behind glass.
The woman is short, she was rich, they know
because of the care taken in how her entrails
were removed, wrapped in linens, returned
to her body before the whole corpse
was salted and dried for forty days.
Only then did they wrap her for good,
this time with scarabs inside the linens.
Of course the dung beetle would symbolize
rebirth. It epitomizes relentless biology.
I love staring at the shape of her face,
the way her toes point up. I love reading
about how they found her in the wrong coffin—
a coffin made for a common man—they could
tell by the hieroglyphics. Part of me
longs to believe that what is dead is dead.
And part of me wishes I knew her name
so I could say it again and again.

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Invitation

a poem for Leanne Canty’s amazing Alphabet Menagerie

Between the letters A and Z,
there’s so much to explore—
an alphabetic wonderland
of names that open doors!

And then there are the places where
the world slips through the letters,
where anything is possible,
let’s dance there, friend, together.

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Moment of Grace

Sometimes a person’s name
becomes so heavy around her neck
that the gravity of it pulls her down,
down into the snow drift, so far down,
syllables wrapped around buried stones,
that she cleaves it from her, expecting
blood, but there is only a sweet
emptiness where the name once was.
Such levity, she nearly floats above
the white bank. But you know what
happens to an empty space. Don’t
tell her. She is talking with the birds now,
and the sky. And the space
behind the sky.

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on the wall
those shadows so much larger
than our problems

*

in the frost
on the window she writes
her name

*

recalling all those
prayers
I never learned

*

like a worm in kale,
something nibbling
all night on her dreams

*

air, snow, shadow, wind
she loses any names
she has been given

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