#poemoftheday in honour of @DrSamuelJohnson @SJDictionary being 260 years old!

Ode on Dictionaries by Barbara Hamby


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.