recess radio program

Marks for the New Year
    by John Cech

In Japan, during the first days of the new year, the Kakizome festival takes place; it's dedicated to putting the first marks on paper for the new year, and it's become an occasion for Japanese children to demonstrate their grasp of traditional calligraphy. The practice itself began centuries ago in temple schools where, among other things, the art of calligraphy was taught. One was expected to write something mindfully beautiful on paper -- a poem or a resolution for the year -- something important to set the tone for the coming months.

For most of us the first mark that's put on paper about us is our name -- something that sets a tone, in some cases, for a lifetime. There are now whole books that present parents with naming choices -- from the most visible, to the obscure -- and websites that even rank the most popular names for boys and girls each year. In the U.S. last year, for example, there were 30,122 Jacobs (the most frequently given boy's name according to one website) and 24,262 Emilys (the most popular girl's name) But I'd like to think there were deeper, less trendy, more individual powers at work in something as significant as a name. Here, then, is a poem about all those other, wonderful choices:

Koren, Omar and Maryann
Cynthia, Tomasz, Charlemagne,
Florio, Koji and Philippa --
An angel gives us each our name.

Sometimes she sends it in a dream
Or on the wind
Or in the rain.
Sometimes she keeps it may years
A shining leaf on the family tree:
Abraham, Petra, or Timothy.

Sometimes she knows by a baby's gurgle
Or how she kicks before she's born.
"That's Anna," she says,
"Ready to dance.
And that's Kofi
Doing a back somersault,
And Liang the poet
Ready to rhyme."

And sometimes she whsipers it
In our mother's ear:
"Carlos, Fatima, Guinevere."

Or let's Papa hear it
While he's making a chair:
"Abduallah, Rosie, Esperanza, Pierre."

We don't know how she does it,
but each name fits just so:
Maya or Elvis or Meiku,
Benjamin or Yanee
Abigail or, simply, Joe.

Copyright 2004 John Cech

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."