Keeping My Name
"T as in Tom ... U ... F as in Frank,"
I tell the voice at the bookstore or the bank,
Knowing the chances of its being right
On form or package are extremely slight
Unless the clerk repeats (and most donít bother)
This catechism I learned from my fatheró
T as in Tom, U, F as in Frank.
For this ritual I have myself to thankó
Twice Iíve had and forfeited the chance
To trade the burden and extravagance
Of five syllables for one or two.
I couldnít do it when I said "I do,"
Not even after three years in the South,
Where voweled names are mangled in the mouth.
Whatís in a name? Why, a family line,
Identity, tradition, but in mine
I had the gallop of the Latin dactyl;
Tufa, crumbly stuff, so richly tactile,
So unlike Grandpaís monumental granite;
And, from the intrepid who could scan it,
I had the liquid lilting of iello
(One teacher sang it sweetly as a cello);
And those plump vowels, juicy and aliveó
At one per syllable, I had all five.
In school, through endless dreamy afternoons,
I brooded like a druid casting runes
Over the page to see how many words
My name would make, releasing them like birds
From the magicianís cloak I always wore.
Every year they multiplied, to more
Than Iíd thought possible, as rat and tale,
Tall and tell gave way to trill and
If and far to float, aloft and
One day a rill might bubble from a rift,
The next an elf warble a silver lute,
A leering troll swig ale or proffer
One taste of which might lead to fault and
They scattered, and I catalogued them all:
Found fore and after, leaping fire
(With sandstone, all the elements were there),
Caught Uriel, Miltonís angel of the sun,
Wearing cloudy tulle, and (nearly done),
Bright Ariel, Will Shakespeareís airy sprite,
Hidden in the middle, in plain sightó
Caught him in my net, then let him go,
Happy in his charms as Prospero.
Free Time, Robert L. Barth, publisher, ©
Reprinted by permission of the author.