Over Oregon the Flight Attendant Asks If I’m Interested in Water

Jennifer Richter

I was wondering how you feel about your name being associated with a disaster.
—archived fan mail to Charles Francis Richter, creator of the magnitude scale

Over Oregon the flight attendant asks if I’m interested in water
and I nod at his tray of clear cups lined up like the carnival game

that won me a fish I named after myself oh like the Richter scale
people say in Oregon where tsunami trips kids up on spelling tests

some letters are absurd they ask the seismologist which of these states
should I move to
but one begins you’re the only other Francis I know

my teacher told me about you I hate my name they scream it at recess
I don’t even have a middle name what do your friends call you and also

do earthquakes scare you like they do m
e yes thanks I’m very interested
in the unlikely event of water landing on our home thirty thousand

feet below when I chose to keep this name disaster hadn’t occurred
to me but now our children drop cover hold on in school they raise

their hands to my husband’s name on the first day the teacher isn’t
sure who I belong to their hair matches exactly that class goldfish

with alarmed eyes if something happens how will strangers help me
find them my name will be useless my name will be news for years

that third grade fish has been living dying getting replaced overnight
though to the children it’s always Charlie the seismologist’s name

ended with him but his carbon-copied reply calls the boy son and
uses the word wonder when ours was lost in the children’s museum

he’d looped back to the tsunami tank to methodically stack blocks
under a giant timer counting down to the wave that came so close

he couldn’t hear me calling

Jennifer Richter is the author of the poetry collections Threshold (2010) and No Acute Distress (2016), both Crab Orchard Series Selections and Oregon Book Award Finalists. Her work has appeared in many national publications, including ZYZZYVA, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, CALYXPoetry Northwest, and A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-five Years of Women’s Poetry. She currently teaches in Oregon State University’s MFA program.

Originally published in Moss: Volume Six.

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