The Best Words
The ones that sound obscene but aren’t,
that put a finger to the flame but don’t burn.
Words like asinine, poppycock, titmouse, tit for tat,
woodpecker, pecorino, poop deck, and beaver.
In tenth grade Mr. Mungonest, my English teacher,
called Barney Feeley a young dastard and silenced
the room. Dastard! I was seduced by words that flirt
with danger but don’t end up in bed. The threat
of Shylock’s If you prick us, do we not bleed?
And fructify—I wanted to conjugate
that sinuous verb, like Proteus, changing its form,
oozing into fructuous, assuming the official ring
of fructification, advocating like a president’s wife
for the Fructification of America.
Wild words that shake their hips, thrust out their genitalia,
and say, Feast on this. Sexagesima—my God!
what a word for the second Sunday before Lent.
Sextuplicate, the versatility of it—noun, verb, adjective—
always occurring six times. And on the equator, positioned
just south of the Sickle of Leo, the constellation Sextans.
My twelfth grade English teacher was Mrs. Cox.
We could not get enough of her name. We raised
our hands and called, Mrs. Cox, Mrs. Cox, choose me!
until we drove her out of school swearing
to become a secretary or a nun, but not until we’d fallen
in love with Edmund the Bastard.
Cockatiel, cockatoo—words with wings.
The hoarfrost of winter, lure of a crappie,
handful of nuts, kumquat, lavender crystals of kunzite,
the titillation of shiftless and schist, the bark and bite
of shittimwood, music of sextillion and cockleshells.
And always somewhere in the distance, Jerry Lee Lewis,
blond curls flapping, groin pumping, fingers pounding
the keyboard, his throat belting out Great balls of fire!—
words like fat radishes burning my tongue.
©Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013) and three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve’s Red Dress. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Against Perfection and Greatest Hits: 1997-2010. Her poems have been included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, and in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac.
"The Best Words" was previously published in What Feeds Us from Wind Publications. Please visit Diane’s website for more www.dianelockward.com