Carnegie Mellon University

"I Have Two Names" 

Honorable Mention for College Poetry

Julie and Yee Seul,
and either one can be painted
on a grain of rice, dropped
in a tiny glass vial, then strung                 
round a neck like a noose.
 
This is what all the white girls
from my elementary school did
when they visited NYC:
pay a man with crooked teeth
hunched on a grimy street corner
to make necklaces of their names in black
on shards of rice for five dollars.
 
They’d come back and show it off,
coo, “So cute and tiny,” the way
my teachers always called me petite.
 
When I visit the city, years later,
I know I can’t rid myself of rice
the way those girls lost
their necklaces or dropped them
down a drain. Even standing
still, grains fall out of my ears.
 
I have two names
and tell the man on the street corner this,
ask, “Can two possibly fit on one grain?”
 
He throws back his head and cackles,
“I write small, not that small, what you want
is two-for-one bargain.”
 
He takes a quarter from his can,
calls heads for Julie,
tails for Yee Seul and throws.
 
My hand snatches it
out of the sky, I open my palm,
and a man jostles me from behind,
sends the coin spinning down
the dark mouth of a drain
where it blinks at me,
knows what I don’t,
holds its secret
like a diamond on the tip
of a tongue.
 
“You lose my quarter.”
 
Sir, I have two names,
and don’t feel fully either one.
 
I’ve already lost so much.

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