A Prose by Any Other Name
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 as a child I watched her sketch a mural
across the entire length of a room on plain, brown Kraft paper.
She used smudged and worn oil crayons
that I didn't know she owned and never saw again.
When she’d finished, she simply tore it down
and tossed it into the trash.
She smiled at strangers, rarely in photographs.
I grew up healthy on meals she prepared
by stirring stones with a stick and turning out pots of gold.
I too, am a fine cook.
I learned this not by any intended direction, but by her audible
musings - ‘…don’t have any squash, wonder if okra will do…?’ or
‘Oh! Piss! I’m out of buttermilk, hand me the vinegar.’
And so, today, I dash at this and pinch at that, and never make the
exact dish 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 things against her.
No, where her culpability lies is in my middle name;
it fails to entertain.
I was named primarily after a paternal great grandmother;
not so much in honor of her,
but rather after her. She was quite old and infirmed
at the time that my mother married into the family,
and had died a number of years before I was born,
but it was a kind gesture,
as I was the first girl child of a new generation.
Her name was Laura Belle.
My mother had the presence of mind to drop the rather trussed and hoop
skirted, round and clattering sounding name of Belle, and she had a myriad
of inspiration to fall back on.
As an example, My paternal grandmother was Zilpha.
There’s a name! I’m certain I would have hated it, but it’s a terrible thing
that such a name could not survive the modern age.
For many generations, back and sideways there were variations.
Zilphiannes, Zilphynnas, Zylphias, and on and on they branched
in many directions and across decades.
There were also Priscillas, Angelines and Carolines.
But my mother chose none of these wonderfully lyrical names.
Nor did she choose my favorite name.
A sister to my grandfather. I adored her name.
All those around her called her Ev or Evie. She preferred Evalena.
I know this; I have a few notes and cards, written in her youth.
Her endearments always signed, ‘Evalena’.
Imagine the lessons one would learn simply from
the responsibility of penning such a wonderful name;
all the curls and loops and ethereal flow.
Evalena Ballerina. She would have laughed in her tinkling,
palsied, little voice to hear me say that.
She raised cows and chickens.
She sold fresh eggs and milk. She churned the sweetest, creamiest, dreamiest,
richest butter I've ever tasted. I hold every lover, whose lips I've ever tasted, to that
standard - all but two have been margarine on my biscuits in the morning light.
She was a tiny woman, my Aunt Ev, made smaller still, by the daily bend and stoop
of a hard life lived over buckets and pales. Long hours in the sun were spent
in a calico bonnet. She looked as fragile as the eggs she gathered,
but perhaps she was more like a creek stone; solid -
worn smooth from years of only the same rushing past.
Her skin remained as lovely white as the milk before she churned it
to pure sunshine.
And upon her cheek and deep into the her slender neck, a silvery scar where life demanded it's few ounces of flesh.
There was cancer in her throat, or perhaps it was her jaw.
I’m not certain, but they got it all - and then some.
“You can never be too careful, but these farmer’s daughters are a sturdy lot.
She’ll be good as new in no time.”
Oh! Evalena Ballerina!
With 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.