Three Syllables


I vividly remember one afternoon in first grade
Our small bodies arranged in a perfectly round circle on the colored carpet.
We were holding rhythm sticks, ready to sing in a musical activity.
We struck our sticks to the beats of our names,
As we went around the circle, I listened to simple name after name,
Ru-by, ash-ley, jo-na-than,
And when the ripple of the circle reached my place, my heart stopped
I panicked and went with my instinct. My gut
Told me to strike twice, my name had two syllables. 1-2, I hit my sticks
And my teacher stopped me, her porcelain face in a tight-lipped smile,
No, that’s wrong, she told me. Your name has three syllables.
I looked around the room and saw baby-soft Gerber faces with smirks
They looked down on me as if I was stupid, so that day I learned
To always be correct, to say my name with three syllables.

It happened again when I got glasses for the first time.
They laid the frames on the bridge of my nose,
I looked in the mirror-- a perfect fit. I looked just like
The Target brand model on the wall, a pearly white smile plastered on her face,
Jumping around in a pristine white photo background.
Her glasses, the same design as mine.
I love them, I told my father, and he smiled.
We walked towards the check-out desk, I skipped along like the girl in the ad
And when they asked me my name, I broke it into three syllables,
So the perfectly manicured clerk could understand it, loud and clear.
I loved my glasses so much, how they fixed everything.
They made me see everything so clearly.

At dance, it was worse. I hid timidly in the corner,
In a barren room full of people I didn’t know at all.
I eyed everyone in the room. Perfect buns, perfectly pale skin, perfect figure
I was nothing like them-- they could see that
My floppy hair, my wrinkled and ill-fitting leotard,
Most of all, it was my skin. I wasn’t just tan from the summer.
So when the teacher took attendance and reached the end
She said there was a new student, and everyone already knew who.
They asked me my name and I responded in a rhythmic whisper
With three syllables, so they would understand
And they never got it wrong again, and they never judged me ever again
I was just like them.

On the first day of middle school, I had this one teacher who never got it right.
When he read my name off the nine-person-long roster
And got to the end, I could see his face crumple at the unusual jumble of letters,
Like my other teachers’ faces had so many times before. I was used to it.
He didn’t open his mouth before I cut him off, declaring my name,
Three syllables. Simple! and so it was known. I was known.
For the next three years, no one got it wrong.
Not even the teachers with their tucked-in polos and khakis,
Not the girls with their honey-blond hair and thirty-five dollar water bottles,
Not the little kids who didn’t know any better, not a single soul in my whole school.
None of which who could even speak Spanish anyways. So I didn’t care.

So, when I stepped foot in the country where I used to live, I felt like a tourist
I hated the uncomfortable stares I got, like I belonged but somehow didn’t.
Even though I knew this is where my blood came from, I didn’t know what set them off.
Was it my Asian eyes? The clothes I wore? The passport I carried in my pocket?
When they asked me my name, it rolled uncomfortably off of my tongue.
I tried to fit my swollen name into the mold it came from, the mold that only allowed
Two syllables to fit. But my name was too fat, it now had three. Why?
Because of the McDonald’s on the corner I went to too many times,
Because of the chicken pot pie I made my mother make instead of rice, beans, and chicken
Because I hadn’t exercised it enough when I visited by grandparents.
My name was obese, and it wouldn’t fit out of my mouth. I was ashamed.

That’s how people knew I was a tourist. An American,
Who didn’t know how to say things the right way.
So I started exercising my name. I fed it healthy foods, I saw changes in its corpulence
I couldn’t bear the pressure of my parents, my family
My grandparents hearing me avoid saying my name.
But I kept this all secret. So, on graduation day, I fit myself into that dress
And my name slid like a glove into its mold. Something clicked,
And when they asked my name, I could finally say it confidently.
Two syllables.
I saw the twisted faces in the audience, for they couldn’t comprehend
A name like that being two syllables.
But I said it anyway, didn’t care about the faces
Anyway, it’s my preference. My blood. My culture. My name.

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