Linguistics For The Concerned Time Traveler
Had the other boys read the dictionary
as I did, voraciously, aged only 10,
they might have learned a thing or two
to swap over a drink at the water fountain,
or to pass across our Formica lunch tables;
some choice word here or there that,
during a time of childhood when the only
currency was fresh innuendo and obscenity,
would have made them rich indeed.
But I stormed the country of language first,
like a diminutive Napoleon in sweatpants,
wielding my vocabulary in a pubescent tenor—
and I sold the spoils of that invasion
for a kind word, an hour with the cliques,
who were delighted to learn the following:
that anus, in Latin, means 'old woman.'
Vagina is translated as 'sheath, '
and placenta, as a sort of flat cake.
And today all I can think of is what it
would have been like, to step back to old Rome
and tell them all our little defamations—
to proffer them to the patrician matriarch
as she parted the hordes in the agora
like a downy sliver of soap suddenly
dividing grease from pure water;
to tap the shoulder of the legionnaire,
marooned far from native sweethearts
with only his breath, crystalline in
the Gallican night, for company—
and point to his sheath, his drawn sword,
and explain in brutal detail all the
jokes we made at his expense.
To see the midwife deliver a newborn
from its placenta, its natal cake,
understanding at last the full
and terrible beauty of this child,
which must now be made to rise from
its mixture of womb-water and father-flour
and become something else entirely
in the pitiless heat of the world.
I might apologize to them, if I could.
For who I was, and for what I said.
I might explain that we were only searching
for a way to shock an inattentive teacher
or parent into listening, for once:
for some of us, for the first time.
Or, given the chance to make amends,
I might stand silent, feet shuffling,
and so perhaps I remain the boy I was,
too fond of myself to claim responsibility,
sheltering behind the white lie
that we have risen above adolescent weakness,
and that their dreams of a noble Rome
extend unbroken along the roads of time.
Christopher Apfelbach's Other Poems
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