A Natural History: Jason Koo


A Natural History of My Name

By Jason Koo

Today I read that only 2.2%

—-out of a million first and last names

have a higher vowel than consonant

—–ratio, and, since 50% of the letters

in my name are vowels, this means

—–I am “extremely well-envoweled.”

I go outside strutting the bulge

—–in my name: the trees are wowed

by my vowels, they only have two e’s,

—–which is why they have no leaves

at this time of year: the snow must submit

—–to the scrunch of my boots,

snow only has one o and I have three,

—–even my boots, so tough and rugged,

clearly dominating the one-o’d

—–snow, must bow down to the deity

of me, with three, never raising

—–themselves higher than my feet:


I cross the bridge and it is the same,

—–the river cannot keep up

with me, look at it writhing in the ice,

—–so fearsome with its 66.6%

vowel-to-consonant ratio but not

—–intimidating to me, because ice,

if you’ll notice, slides on its c,

—–eventually skidding to a stop

like a hockey player before the puck

—–of the e: which in a flick

disappears: whereas I keep floating out

—–on my opening of o’s, the song

of my name is repeated through nature,

—–cuckoos and owls take pleasure

in perpetuating it, just one koo

—–is never enough for them, koo

must always come coupling


—–through their throats: you can hear

this song taken up by schoolchildren,

—–I used to hear it all the time,

I thought kids were taunting me but

—–now I know they were just jealous

of my o’s: they saw these heaped

—–in their bowls of canned

spaghetti and cereal, but no matter

—–how many spoonfuls they jammed

in their mouths, no matter how

—–many more muscles they grew

than me, they never grew any

—–more richly envoweled: this was just

something you had to be born with,

—–a natural advantage of hailing

from a family that came from a tiny

—–Pacific peninsula whupped

by other countries: our name shed

—–contours of consonants

to slip past detection, shape-shifting

—–into other words like a

syllable chameleon, from haiku to coup

—–d’etat matching colonial culture

and upheaval, so when I hear Hi, Koo


—–today followed by a giggle, the laugh

is not on me but on the oppressors,

—–whose whole poetic tradition

gets cheerfully wiped out by my arrival.


Jason Koo used to be called ‘d’etat’, for short, in high school. Among other less cool things.



“A Natural History of My Name” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

Jason Koo is the author of Man on Extremely Small Island, winner of the 2008 De Novo Poetry Prize (C&R Press, 2009). The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center, he has published his poetry and prose in numerous journals, including The Yale Review, North American Review and The Missouri Review. He teaches at NYU and Lehman College and serves as Poetry Editor of Low Rent. He lives in Brooklyn with his cat, Django.

One comment

  1. […] Jason Koo wrote “A Natural History of My Name” […]

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