My mother gone for months, my brothers away at school,
I’d open the dictionary and there were:
Dishabille, the French governess, or Scurrilous, the riding master,
Worry always at her needle, or Corpulent, the cook,
all so much more interesting
than the kids at school or my father’s weekend cronies.
They even smelled better
and the smells had stories to tell:
Nutmeg, Hedge Garlic, Turmeric, Clove.
They just needed a little prompting.
I liked to imagine words putting up their feet by the fire
and talking of their masters.
stiff-backed Faithful, snail-faced Obedient,
mousy Useful, usually discreet Wisdom
siphoning off a little of their lord’s best brandy
and telling a few off-color jokes,
even footmen and chambermaids deserving a life.
Misery, Rancor, Mischief, Solitude, over-worked under-
paid help that had done their best
to raise me. So what if I couldn’t open my mouth
at school? So what if I had trouble talking
to my father? I was included in the Ribald
secret life of vowels and consonants,
Raillery, Rumor, Escapade,
my nanny, my scullery maid, my gamekeeper,
their belly laughs in the stables,
winks in the parlor, their carryings-on beneath the stairs.
by Christopher Bursk
from The First Inhabitants of Arcadia
the University of Arkansas Press, 2006