It’s never a good time to meet the undead.
That’s how I feel when I encounter my former married name, the name that I answered to for 16 years, a name that belonged to a woman who no longer exists, either legally or emotionally.
I shed the name as quickly as possible — I have a visceral reaction to it now, and confess I’ve even developed an aversion to the first letter of my former last name.
But it lurks. Oh intimate betrayal, it’s in my muscle memory. When I’m fatigued, I sometimes catch my hand in mid-signature swoop, and when I least expect it I find the former name still crouching in the bowels of institutional computers. As I did yesterday at the New York Public Library.
Although I quickly changed the name on my library card, for whatever reason, the reserve system didn’t catch up. When I arrived yesterday to collect my books on hold for Stein, they could not be located. I eventually realized they were being held under the name of the women-I-am-no-longer.
The books I’d asked for were about Hannah Hoch, one of the most influential artists of the Berlin Dada movement best known for her photomontage and collage. And so at some point, I stopped reading, picked up the pink reserve slip I’d flipped over to avoid the sight of my former name — in this photo, it’s a blemish I’ve removed — and decided to create an erasure.
Erasure poetry has a long, poignant history, good for elegies, which the above is. I’m thinking about incorporating an exercise with erasure poetry into my next creative writing class. It’s a nice way to become aware of the many words in our landscape — try it with a receipt the next time you go grocery shopping — and a satisfying way to impose meaning on detritus.