“from Jezebel: ‘Map: Six Decades of the Most Popular Name for Girls, State by State'” by Jennifer Martelli

Reading by the author

On Romper Room, another Jennifer emerged from Miss Jean’s Magic Mirror.

I sat cross-legged and too close to the black and white TV, the one with tin-foiled rabbit ears

in the little den off the pink kitchen where my mother smoked. I thought I was the only Jennifer.

I was the only Jennifer I knew, which is why I fell off the round and turning world.

Jennifer Jones (not her real name) was the mother of all us scant Jennifers.

Born Phyllis Lee Isley, Jones played a teen-aged girl in Lourdes visited

18 times by the Virgin Mary who clutched a pearl rosary. Only when the maiden

lay dying from tuberculosis of the blood, did people believe her.

Jezebel’s map of girl names was green/gray for the 60s: each state filled with Marys

and Lisas until Jennifer Cavilleri, the working-class Italian in Love Story who died

of leukemia in the 1970 movie, birthed a new generation of Jennifers. As she died,

she didn’t expect much because love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Jennifer began to eat the Marys, the Lisas off the map of green and gray state names—

Jennifer flooded the map with bright blood red. The whole country on the Jezebel map red,

red as a Republican electorate. I watch this time-lapse over and over: and it’s like

a bad election night, each state filled up completely red, even Massachusetts, even here, 
and Jennifer ruled for 15 years.

The National Post called this era “The Jennifer Epidemic,” and it was feverish,

flushed, genetic and bell-curved. But in 1984, the Jennifer fever broke, the blood

bloom stanched. Jennifer retreated from the nation’s cool white forehead, left

a neutral memory: curled like a nail, a hook, like the letter J my mother fell in love with.

So, if you insist I submit my story without a name, I’d have to erase or redact each Jennifer

and replace her with _________________ or Jennifer. I’d want this to be

not a hum in your mind, but an expelled breath so when you read this you would

asphyxiate and hyperventilate quietly, see stars before your eyes.

Jennifer Martelli is the author of My Tarantella (Bordighera Press), named a 2019 “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and awarded an Honorable Mention by the Italian American Studies Association. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Sycamore Review, and Cream City Review. Jennifer Martelli has twice received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review and co-curates the IAWA Boston reading series.

Image by Alan Coon

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