The name means “odd.” The name means “queer.” It can denote an “odd fish.” It suggests a “queer chap.” Sometimes it means “capricious.” It can also mean “peevish.” It’s a synonym for “singular.” It is thought to be poetic. The Pied Piper of Hamelin was called “ein wunderlicher Kauz,” with his colorful clothing, come to pipe the rats away. He drowned them in the Weser, or so the stories go. When the mayor withheld payment he took the children and drowned them with the rats, or maybe they went into the mountains, or maybe they moved to Transylvania. “It is 100 years since our children left,” says the crumbling book found in the church— that is what it means to be a Wunderlich. The name means “strange things happened to him.” It means “he can be disputatious.” It means he sometimes wears peculiar garments to a party, that as he aged he seemed younger, less reliable, more in touch with what he would call “his soul.” (You might not call it that yourself.) It can mean “quarrelsome.” It can mean “he prefers cats.” It means he has a gnome tattooed near the hair underneath his arm. It means “he loves Christmas like a simpleton.” It means “making sushi out of SPAM.” The name means “curious,” as in “he bought a haunted house,” and since weaning, he’s not touched a woman’s breast. It means “he loves the color orange.” It means “he studied Dutch.” It means pancakes for supper once again this week, and that he prefers to knit his own socks. The name means “electric organ maestro.” The name means “famous botanical illustrator.” It means the drunken tenor ass-over-teakettle down a set of Viennese stairs. It is true there are few of us, that we spread ourselves thin around the globe; find us making wine in Hungary, herding cattle in Namibia, captaining a ship somewhere off the Chilean coast. My Wunderlichs steamed up the long brown Mississippi in a boat that put them and their peculiarities off in Wisconsin, where the name means a shady farm growing a crop of moss on a roof, an old man with a pistol in his pants, a child who didn’t survive and occupies a pagan’s ashy grave atop a limestone bluff where the wind speaks his strange name or worse— voices recognition, an attribution, or a curse.
This poem is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Since you’re here, you probably believe, like us, that work like this should be accessible to anyone who wants to read it. That’s why the entire archive of The Believer is available online for free.
The Believer is made possible solely through the incredible support of a community or readers and writers around the world. Please consider making a donation to The Believer today. Along with receiving a deluge of gratitude from the entire team, all donors are thanked in a print issue of The Believer, and every cent helps.