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A Prose by Any Other Name

Updated on April 12, 2022



A Prose by Any Other Name

by Laura Summerville Reed

I cannot write in rhyme.

My mind will not work that way.

I place the blame for this maladroitness

of speech squarely

on my capably, creative mother.

She, who could play the piano

with nimble fingers,

never sat any of her four children in front

of the keys.

One afternoon when I was a child,

on a length of plain brown Kraft paper

and with smudge-worn oil crayons

that I didn't know she owned,

and never saw again,

She sketched a mural

across the entire length of our living room wall.

When she finished,

she tore it from its taped-down edges,

and crumpled it into a waste basket.

My mother smiled at strangers

(but rarely in photographs.)

I grew up strong on meals that she

magically prepared by stirring

stones with sticks to turn out pots of gold.

I too, am a fine cook.

I learned this not by any formal

direction from her, but from such audible

musings as - ‘…I don’t have squash,

let’s see if okra will do…?’


Oh! Piss! I’m out of buttermilk,

hand me the vinegar.’

And so, I dash at this and pinch

at that, and never make the

exact recipe twice.

I don’t consider these things

her shortcomings.

She was far too busy with the mundane

waltzes her own demons

kept her dancing to

for me hold such trivial things against her.

No, where her culpability lies

is in my middle name.

I was named after a

paternal great grandmother;

- not so much in honor of her,

but rather after her.

She was quite old and infirmed

by the time my mother married

into the family,

and was already years gone to the grave

before I was born,

but it was a thoughtful gesture,

as I was the first girl child

of the new generation.

Her name was Laura Belle.

I’m thankful that my mother

had the presence of mind to

drop the round and clattering,

trussed and hoop-skirted

sounding name of Belle,

But the name

she decided upon fails entirely to entertain.

And not for lack of of inspiration.

For example,

my paternal grandmother

was named Zilpha.

Oh! Now there’s a name!

I’m certain I would have hated it,

but it is a terrible thing

that such a distinction of name

could not survive modern conformity.

For many decades,

backward and sideways

along the sturdy, womanly

limbs of my family tree

there were variations of that name.

Zilphianne, Zilphynna, Zylphia,

and on and on the name was twined

in many directions and through the generations.

There were Priscillas, Angelines and

Carolines scattered among

the branches, as well.

But my mother chose none of

those fine, matriarchal names.

Nor did she choose my favorite

of all the wonderful, lyrical names.


She was a sister to my grandfather.

I adored her

and her name.

All those who were close to her

called her Ev or Evie.

She called herself Evelyna.

I know this because I have a few

notes and cards penned in her own hand

saved in her youth.

Her closing endearments always signed ‘Evelyna’.

There are lessons to be learned in

mastering the pen over

such a lovely name -

the responsibility of

all the curls and loops and

ethereal flow.

Evelyna Ballerina.

She would laugh in her tinkling,

age-palsied, little voice to hear me say that.

She raised cows and chickens.

She sold the eggs and milk.

She churned the sweetest,

creamiest, dreamiest,

butter I've ever tasted.

I hold every lover

whose lips I've tasted to that

standard -

all but two have been like margarine

on a cold biscuit

in the morning light.

She was a tiny woman -

made smaller still

by the daily bend and stoop

of a life lived over pails and buckets.

Long hours in the sun

were spent shaded in wide-brimmed bonnets

of faded calico.

She looked as fragile

as the eggs she gathered,

but perhaps she was more like a creek stone;

solid -

worn smooth

by years of only the same rushing past.

Her skin was as lovely pale as

unchurned milk before she turned it

into melty-yellow sunshine.

A scar, like a silver cord knotted her cheek

and trenched deep

into her slender neck.

Life had demanded payment

by extracting a few ounces of flesh

when she was only a girl.

There was cancer in her throat,

(or perhaps it had been her jaw)

but they got it all

- and then some -

“You can never be too careful.

But farmers’ daughters are a sturdy lot, after all,

and she’ll be good as new in no time.”

Oh! Evelyna Ballerina!

Had I a name such as that,

so many rhymes

would have sprung to my mind!

But alas and alack,

it was replaced with the prosaically flat

and rather pedestrian syllable - Lee.

©LSR 2010


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