– after “Wunderlich” by Mark Wunderlich
It comes from the Greek, for greenery.
Phyllis, ideal pastoral maiden
who dies of a broken heart, or suicide,
depending on the version of the story.
Gets turned into a tree. A Waterhouse painting,
in which she rises out of her almond trunk,
bare chested, fragile, with Demophon,
that lousy lover, looking up guiltily.
Bad endings, guilt.
My name has been planted
on the North Pole, sung to sweethearts
with guitar accompaniment, flown in a banner
behind a small airplane.
Jewish mothers hovering.
Father like a Fang.
In the annals of my identity
it’s analogous to caregiver,
determination with a bruxism problem.
Also attachment problems.
Sex just off a hiking trail.
Fear of quintessential varieties:
shut-downs, thermostats, ceilings,
terror of rent past due lugged around in a sack
labeled worry. Husks where youth once was.
My name, also known as Phillida or Phylicia
and Phyllisity, a special poetry name
a teenage prodigy in a wheelchair gifted
me on his way to somewhere
else. Only Perie calls me by this name
which means it’s a secret.
Phyllis, popular from 1916 to 1958
when it nosedived into virtual obscurity,
now an old-lady’s name.
And what does it mean that the two most famous
Phyllis’ are Diller and Schlafly?
Impossible to feel good about that.
Also, impossible to spell the plural.
Sometimes I say it out loud to myself.
My version is dressed up, jeweled, closets
hunched around crowded fabrics, felted
pouches of gold and silver landslides.
Paper-thin hair that lost its curl. Shopping
trips to bargain basements, sagging racks of lace
shirts, endearing dresses size extra small.
It wears fake tattoos, hidden, to ward off
further skin cancers. Yearning, as in
I want an electric car. As in, I want to
be called Kwame, or Crystal,
Louisa or Jacqueline or Destiny Birdsong.
As in, I want hair like Marie’s.
It’s the reach for something better, the climb
hand over hand, as if on a ladder of myself,
footsteps, footprints everywhere.