Listening to NPR this morning, I was caught by the phrase, “A woman discovers the true meaning of her name.” I asked the teens in my Young Writers Workshop at Bellevue College to write poems about that – but to write them in a language other than English. Everyone wrote in Chinese except me. I wrote in French. (My moment of victory was hearing a student exclaim, “I need to go home and study my Chinese today.”) Much hilarity ensued as they composed poems they understood (in varying degrees), but I did not.
Writing in French put my head in a completely different place. Without a dictionary handy, I had to rely on whatever vocabulary remains in my memory. I didn’t have the luxury of nine different synonyms for a word. In French the word “means” is “veut dire” – “wants to say.” A whole new world of possibility opened as I pondered what my name wants to say.
I’m going risk foolishness by reproducing my poem here without looking at the dictionary or grammar book – it may be that my phrasing is a little quaint, but I think the poem wants to be here, nonetheless.
Ce Que Mon Nom Veut Dire
Mon nom veut dire courage
Mon nom veut dire ce qu’un oiseau dit
quand il vole dessus une temple,
ce qu’une enfante dit quand elle imagine
des âmes dans des dessins de craie.
Mon nom veut parler des escaliers,
De nuit en nuit mon nom s’inquiet.
Il marche la longue des corridors
en conjurant des images de nœuds.
Le matin il se réveille.
Dans la fenêtre un oiseau,
ses ailes en feu,
chant la rythme de mon nom.
What My Name Wants to Say
My name wants to say courage
My name wants to say what a bird says
when it flies over a temple,
what a child says when she imagines
souls in chalk drawings.
My name wants to speak of stairs,
Night after night my name frets.
It walks the halls
conjuring images of knots.
In the morning it wakes.
In the window a bird,
its wings on fire,
sings the rhythm of my name.