Sorry I Pronounced Your Name Wrong This Morning

So I’m a substitute teacher, which means I’m constantly having to walk into a room full of kids I don’t know and read their names out loud and of course sometimes I mess them up and I always feel a little bad and they sometimes get pretty upset and thus springs this poem. 

Sorry I got your name wrong reading the attendance list.
Sorry I got your ee as an ah
and sorry the class laughed
although neither of us found it funny.
Sorry I reshuffled the grouping of letters
that’s been
synonymous with you since birth.
Sorry I used your first name, Samuel,
somehow painful to you
for reasons that are hidden to me
and will never be revealed and
you prefer Jake.
Sorry I couldn’t take context clues and realize
India, S R I isn’t sree it’s shree
or China, your x is sh
and all those little sounds
and beats
and pronunciations
that make up the label of you.
Sorry you sighed or rolled your eyes
or angrily corrected me
because this is the hundredth, thousandth time
someone’s misrepresented,
misread the most straightforward symbol
of identity
in a place where it can be so elusive
clawing to be formed.
Sorry I cannot look at your name on paper
and know you,
cannot read your history with my fingertips
on the ink of your surname
cannot feel your mother or your father
or what your front lawn looks like in that
conjunction of consonants and vowels.
Sorry I don’t know you and you don’t know me
and when I leave all I’ll be
is the one who got you wrong,
who looked at you
and spoke the name of a stranger
and asked that you raise your hand.

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One thought on “Sorry I Pronounced Your Name Wrong This Morning

  1. Haha ~ when I was 24 years old, I was hired by the School Commission in Montreal, Quebec for my first teaching job. Just before the first day of school, I started reading the files containing the details of my students’ oh-so-many learning disabilities. All my kids were Italian immigrant children. This was before digital pictures. No pictures! I panicked when I saw their names for the first time. Giuseppina, Gian Carlo, Emilio, Patrizia, Francesco, Paolo. I couldn’t form any kind of picture of my students. I ran to my principal to ask who were boys and who were girls. It’s true you cannot get an idea of your kids until you say their names.

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