Born Without an Umlaut
by Carol A. Stephen
Born to an unpronounceable surname,
I wandered through school always
far down the list at roll call, knew
my turn had come when teacher stopped
after my first name. That same cough, a glance up,
then the struggle: Swuh, Swuh, SSSS –
Embarrassed, I’d raise my hand, call out “Here!”
Always the middle vowels tying tongues. “AE.”
I could see by their wrinkled frowns
they were thinking: Is it AY? Or the long Ah?
Swaebe. Could be Swayb, could be Swab, or even Swabby:
that odd name missing its precious umlaut.
Dad’s long gone. I search for him online, looking
for clues to never-mentioned relatives and ancestors.
Discover Dad, born under another unpronounceable name.
Not Swaebe at all, he was a Pfahl! (Fall or Pfffal?)
I cough, I struggle. I wonder if he ever knew.
How would life have unfolded, if our…