Ode on Dictionaries
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 clichés 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.
From All-Night Lingo Tango by Barbara Hamby. Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Hamby. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.
Barbara Hamby is the author of Bird Odyssey (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018).
Date Published: 2009-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/ode-dictionaries