Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ode on Dictionaries

by Barbara Hambly

A-bomb is how it begins with a big bang on page
     one, a calculator of sorts whose centrifuge
begets bedouin, bamboozle, breakdance, and berserk,
    one of my mother's favorite words, hard knock
clerk of cliches that she is, at the moment going ape
    the current rave in the fundamentalist landscape
disguised as her brain, a rococo lexicon
    of Deuteronomy, Job, gossip, spritz, and neocon
ephemera all wrapped up in a pop burrito
    of movie star shenanigans, like a stray Cheeto
found in your pocket the day after you finish the bag,
    tastier than any oyster and champagne fueled fugue
gastronomique you have been pursuing in France
    for the past four months.  This 82-year-old's rants
have taken their place with the dictionary I bought
    in the fourth grade, with so many gorgeous words I thought
I'd never plumb its depths.  Right the first time, little girl,
    yet here I am still at it, trolling for pearls,
Japanese words vying with Bantu in a goulash
    I eat daily, sometimes gagging, sometimes with relish,
kleptomaniac in the candy store of language,
    slipping words in my pockets like a non-smudge
lipstick that smears with the first kiss.  I'm the demented
    lady with sixteen cats.  Sure, the house stinks, but those damned 
mice have skedaddled, though I kind of miss them, their cute
    little faces, the whiskers, those adorable gray suits.
No, all beasts are welcome in my menagerie, ark
    of inconsolable barks and meows, sharp-toothed shark,
OED of the deep ocean, sweet compendium
    of candy bars--Butterfingers, Mounds, and M&Ms--
packed next to the tripe and gizzards, trim and tackle
    of butchers and bakers, the painter's brush and spackle,
quarks and black holes of physicists' theory.  I'm building 
    my own book as a mason makes a wall or a gelding
runs round the track--brick by brick, step by step, word by word,
    jonquil by gerrymander, syllabub by greensward
swordplay by snapdragon, a never-ending parade
    with clowns and funambulists in my own mouth, homemade
treasure chest of tongue and teeth, the brain's roustabout, rough
    unfurler of tents and trapezes, off-the-cuff
unruly troublemaker in the high church museum
    of the world.  O mouth--boondoggle, auditorium,
viper, gulag, gumbo pot on a steamy August
    afternoon--what have you not given me?  How I must
wear on you, my Samuel Johnson in a frock coat,
    lexicographer of silly thoughts, billy goat,
X-rated pornographic smut factory, scarfer
    of snacks, prissy smirker, late-night barfly,
you are the megaphone by which I bewitch the world
    or don't as the case may be.  O chittering squirrel,
ziplock sandwich bag, sound off, shut up, gather your words
    into bouquets, folios, flocks of black and flaming birds.

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