on a name

I was supposed to be named Rochelle. “Little rock.” Instead, Shantai. The sounds don’t come out right for most people. I learned early on to answer to shh. I answer to accidents and false starts.

I got a name of indecision, one with two paths: Chanter and Shanti, to sing and peace,

to sing in peace

and it’s spelt wrong for both. Makes sense; it wasn’t planned. Shantai was a lyrical suggestion from the lips of a stranger on the day before the night I left the womb.


My name is lonely. No keychains or mugs or fake license plates at roadside gift shops. Nothing that smiles back and says, “You’re not the only one. There are others like you.” She’s not a Susan, or an Anthony, or even an Angela. She’s a, “I don’t know how to spell that.” Or a, “Enchantée Shantai, c’est rigolo!”


Once, I met my name’s homonym. It was on Halloween when everyone pretends to be what they aren’t or shows who they truly are. I was seven, maybe eight, and it was the early evening. The moon’s light and the gold of streetlamps must’ve made everything a blue green over grey because that’s the color of this memory.

I was drowning in my mother’s sky blue nursing scrubs with her stethoscope hooked around my neck, bandaged up in other people’s expectations and fallen ambitions.

At the trick-or-treating spot off White Plains Road, I opened the front passenger door of the minivan and watched my brothers tumble out onto the sidewalk, checkered smiles of growing teeth glowing in the night with high-pitched squeals escaping through the gaps. Somewhere during their loud tumble towards a night of sweets and future gum disease, I heard my name. The voice was new to me.

I turned and looked anyway because like any dog—I mean, child—I had been trained to look when spoken to, to answer when called. And for the first time, my name wasn’t mine. Shantai was another girl, with hair pressed and curled into a sea of Shirley Temples. She and her friends had no chaperone. She was too big for that. She was a blue princess.

6

Here is a portrait
Incomplete
Of a man, I see
Flat, 2d
Of a man, I know
Just barely
Through memories
That are not from me.

He was born in the year of the Earth Monkey,
A Gemini, like my mother. His mother,
A washer; his father,
A master miller.
Both are now dead.

He loves dogs.
“No.
He loves any animal
That obeys him.”
       Once
He trained a pig to act like a dog.
Imagine that.
Kept the porker on a leash
Took it for walks
-Bit people too but

“Only at his command,
Of course.” Of course.

He likes his beer blonde
Like his hair, and The Thief King is
His f  a  v  o  r  ite book, and
It’s like Game of Thrones
‘Cept no one knows it
Except him.
(Accept him) playonwords

I want you to know
That

He is somewhere

Breathing,

Pink masses stretching and releasing
Beneath
A cage of his bones.

Maybe coughing
Or rubbing
The cold from his eye with a knuckle
Or feeling
His palms grow cool against metal.

He is somewhere and
These are just words
That you read. A portrait
Incomplete
Of a man, you see
Flat, 2d
Of a man, you know
Just barely
Through memories
That are not from thee.