Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 24: Autobiography of a Name

Autobiography of a Name

Another girl – that’s what my father said.
Five! Disgusted, he went out for a drink.
He had a crush on Debra Paget, a B list 
movie starlet.  My mom took classes with her
at Hollywood Professional High so 
she said yes, as long as we spell it right.

“Ann” came from my mother’s then-best friend.
Lived downstairs, shared cigarettes, coffee,
rides to the grocery store. Two women, camaradas
in this war called womanhood. I know how it is:
sick kids, errant husbands, secrets no one 
else knows to this day. Best friends -
till one moves away. Or runs away, 
and never comes back.

And "Miranda," well, that’s from some Spaniard
who made it across the monster-pocked Atlantic, 
sponsored a neofito, some tribeless Indian 
with a name in the Devil's tongue; saved him
at the baptismal font way down at the tip of Baja,
back when California was still an island, 
still hoarding her gold like a coquette.
From that tiny barren mission, the newly-
minted Mirandas walked all the way up the coast
to Monterey. Imagine that journey. I can’t.
Talk about tough. Tough, and fertile.
Twelve kids in fourteen years; three survived.

So I carry these names, these stories,
these people around on my body like little pebbles
picked up from all the places I’ve been. 
In one pocket, Debra’s best movies: Broken Arrow, 
Ten Commandments.  In another, Ann’s brief loyalty 
to my mother when a friend meant a hand, 
across a ravenous abyss. And that Spaniard: 
Soldier?  Colonist?  Priest? Did he leave his family 
behind, flee the Inquisition? Which ship was he on?
Did he rape Indian women? Sic dogs on children?
It is difficult to imagine a nice Conquistador
in Baja California in the 1600s. But I carry him
around, too. He is the rock in my shoe,
a sharp piece of gravel named choice,
luck, cruelty, kindness. I carry his name
like the son my father wanted.  A name
that lives on, tags us, marks us with a beacon
visible for centuries.

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