Ardor and Blight: A Women’s Dictionary

by Mara Jebsen

These are the first two entries of a book of poem-essays inspired by the Oxford English Dictionary.

A is for Ardor


Ardor is life. The zeal in a line

down the centre of the body. The wick.

I ascend, with burning

eye. Ascend: to rise

over mountain and lesser; to take on, in some sky

the space of dominion. Now Animated.

Now moved

from within. Fully half of all ancestors

are women. Their brave, painted faces are hard

to know. The frame around mine,

and the frame around yours could melt – there was a song:

my grandma and your


sitting by the fire-

then one set the other’s flag ablaze.

It happens that our ancestors are moving

in small circles, in skirts, in their different

houses. Let us will them: Leave their houses.

Burn flags together. Ancestor worship— is veneration

of those dead, whose blood we believe

is threads through our own; that even now they hold sway

over the affairs of the living. Ahankara, in Buddhism

is the false identification

of the true inner spirit with the body,

or mind, or outside


It all burns off, except the wick, the promise

of fire. Are we ardent spirits,

like brandy and gin? I cannot picture

myself without a body. Dear

grandmama, most inflammable of

flammables; how is it I know

you are dancing like blazes in the waltz

of the beyond: when I spin, I burn; hands open, receiving

the gust of a gift called ardor.

B is for Blight

(an education for belles) Images-1

A Balalaika is a Russian instrument with a neck

like a guitar. Not to be confused

with balabaika: to talk nonsense, faradiddles hogwash.

Or balderdash (which is

of course

bullshit, horseshit , but quite a bit

gentler– to babble

like a babe.)

It is important to know: a ball is a lavish, formal

party. Where belles cluster

by balustrades. But a ballotade is a way a horse moves,

drawing in the leg so the iron shoe shows.

Blackknot makes spots on cherries and plums.

Blackleg attacks the thighs of goats.

And sheeps.


there can’t be belles

if there aren’t peasants. This is how one dances

in an age of plagues. Lets talk rot with our loving

baby’s breath. Let us mix


white columns, farces, masked balls, lame horses, whilst

Black-hearted knaves

bear knives on highways. Lace me my corsets?

Damsels must be protected

from farmhands’ handsy

gropes. With folded fans. With cordons. With ropes.