Say the Names

Marilee Swirczek

We sit on benches warmed by

redolent afternoons, our talk

storied by memories of neighbors

slipping through doorways, smells

of garlic, lox, cabbage slipping out.


Italians dropped vowels

like maple seeds, winged o’s and i’s

spiraling away. Jews cut off

whole syllables, learned to bite

their names in half and spit out the pits.

Poles, on the other hand, sifted

the hard soil of consonants and

pruned lightly.


When we visit the graveyards,

we brush dirt from the headstones,

say the names the old way, listen

for spirits who gather and nod.