Mom preferred the girl’s name she had already picked for her second baby before I so rudely arrived—and not long after I came home Megan became the purebred Irish Setter Dad bought Mom to cheer her up during long, lonely afternoons in the years before I became a halfway-decent audience. Nobody in town had heard of Noël Coward or knew how his mother pushed him to become a dancer as a boy. Whether Mom—a high school dropout who never went to a show—ever read any of his plays or just thought the name sounded foreign enough to be fancy, without being “uppity,” she never said. Nor did she explain why she lost the umlaut, though now I wonder if it was because it might have led me to be confused with Noelle—a name she more than once explained she hated because of some girl who once said Mom’s crimson hair made her look like a squirrel, long before she found her voice, long before she learned to use words as weapons. If Mom had any sense the English playwright liked men more than women, I might have been Cash or Norm. I worried if I shared this tidbit of literary biography she might stop talking to me altogether, like she did with my older brother, after he came out, moved out and was left out of every Christmas dinner ever after, since it was too late for Mom to make him Duke or King. Now with her gone, so many years later, whenever we talk on the telephone about our jobs and loves and dogs, about our growing ups and downs, about how nobody, really, is to blame he never once uses my proper name, instead just calls me brother.

Noel Sloboda is the author of two poetry collections and seven chapbooks, most recently Creature Features (Mainstreet Rag Publishing Company, 2022). He teaches at Penn State York, where he also coordinates the English program.