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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 flail,

If and far to float, aloft and lift.

One day a rill might bubble from a rift,

The next an elf warble a silver lute,

A leering troll swig ale or proffer fruit,

One taste of which might lead to fault and fall.

They scattered, and I catalogued them all:

Found fore and after, leaping fire and air

(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.


Catherine Tufariello



From Free Time, Robert L. Barth, publisher, © 2001.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

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