A friend sent me a news clip of a schoolbus in Iowa, Louisiana nearly overturning when the driver unwisely tried to get it through high flood waters. It struck me that the newscaster, who wasn’t local, managed to correctly pronounce the name of the town, which wouldn’t have happened 99 times out of 100. I realized that I’ve lived in or near many places that no one would have bothered getting right — not until something terrible happened there. And a poem was born.
The towns in the poem are Lockerbie, Scotland (LOCK-er-bee); Carolla, North Carolina (kuh-RAH-luh); Iowa, Louisiana (EYE-o-way); Cairo, Illinois (CARE-oh); and Ely, Minnesota (EE-lee).
The Way to Say It
A silent arc of marble, a garden, a volunteer laundress,
In the wee town where the fuselage fell from the sky.
A sandspit dangling from the fingertips of a continent,
Where sturdy Banker ponies scatter ahead of a hurricane.
A yellow bus axle-deep in dun-colored spring runoff,
Tilting to the tune of the pattering rain beginning again.
A levee dynamited in the heartland, downstream farmers
Braced for the fate they’ll hear on the five-o-clock news.
A five-foot snowfall by November that would be Biblical
In proportion if the place were pronounced like the prophet.
But it isn’t, not tonight. This time the announcers will
Nail them all, the esoterica of articulation, the names they
Never say right until somebody, one way or another, is buried there.