Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Name

                     —after Cisneros & Harjo

Maureen, my name, not like the others. Never a common name like a Kathy or a Sue, the only one in the school with that name. Named after my mother. It was a finely tooled harness that her mother saddled her with, a name of a movie star, Maureen O'Sullivan. But it could have been Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man. All that feistiness.

A name of indeterminate color, sometimes red, the red flannel of the petticoats of the women of the islands. A name sometimes bathed in green, perhaps the seaweed of starvation, or the green fields of Eire.

I was born with red hair but I soon disappointed them by turning brown, no green eyes, but envy was something I knew well. Wanting simultaneously to fit in and to strike a distance, a schizophrenic stance, at best.

The animal hidden inside my name is a raven, Maureen, not little Mary from Maura, but the Morrigan, the triune goddess of battle, the warrior battle is trapped inside my name, always on the bloody field, waiting for the raven to alight and feed.

When the potatoes failed, when there was nothing else left to eat, their mouths were ringed with green, my grandmother said. Beal na blath. Out of the mouths of flowers. These things my grandmother told me at the knee. The articulate hunger, the voracious appetite, Maureen, spelled the English phonetic facsimile, easy on they eyes and tongue, not like the Irish Máirin.

With the name came the persecution: branded Catholic, denied access to Bluebirds, Girl Scouts, Rainbow Girls. No scholarships from the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution. Our immigration story to a WASP world came much later.

Small denials at play in the fields of the Lord. No Irish need apply. How the women whispered, calling my grandmother a cow. and The men remained seated on the trolly, though she was nine months pregnant, they would not offer her a seat, and her water broke. Her firstborn in the New World, welcomed thusly.

In Russia they saw that U in my name and it was all over, I was MAU-ren, like Chairman Mao, not meow. so I called myself Marina, hailed after a different saint. But, just my luck, it was Marina's feast day and they wanted to celebrate my birthday and then I had to confess I was not Marina after all. They felt betrayed, like I did when I was able to understand the meaning of my name.

But my baby name, at home was Baba, I was the baby and the grandmother all in one. And soon after I became the writer, Bei Dao will need to flee Tiananmen Square, and the only thing he will take with him is a drawing of his daughter's name: Tian Tian. the gateway to the sun, a drawing filled with red apples, and her name.

All this he will tell me over a golden beer, in a pub—the place where the Pilgrim Fathers, seeking religious freedom, left for the New World. Fleeing the homeland, taking it all with them. It was the end of beauty, as Joy Harjo said in Deer Dancer, shaking memory loose from history and the reconstruction of self from the shards.

Yes, we are deer dancing barefoot on table-tops, a staccato of hooves, and the stairway to heaven is in a frontier bar, the floor, too sticky with stale booze, wanting to hold us down to this earthly plane.


Metaphor Nov 5 from Our Stories- Creativity, Writing and Storytelling for Educators class at Alameda County Office of Education, Aimee Suzara, instructor

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