My dad is one of the best writers I know. He taught me about literary style and choice of words, persuaded me to read Orwell and sat with me as I hashed over early drafts of essays. It was a labour of love, and no little patience, for him. He’s my hero! I hope a little of his example will spill over to the next generation as well. I’m trying, anyway…
We’re sitting in the kitchen,
pouring over his latest essay.
I jump up from time to time
to stir the spaghetti, then flop
back down again at the small table.
It’s like this, son, I say, sagely.
The English language may be
compared to a well-stocked pantry.
A lot of words hang out on the
lower shelves, or in big barrels.
These are the staples, your common
or garden prepositions, nouns,
proper names, infinitives,
the odd gerund. You gotta use these
just to get through the day, they
won’t do you much harm and
for the most part they are
pretty good for you.
But then look a little further and
the shelves get more interesting.
Some words are sweet, which can be
pleasant in moderation, but I’ll bet
you know people who overdo it and
end up breathlessly waving their
hands up and down and popping
the same bubble-gum over and over.
Maybe one of them is a cheerleader.
Some words are poison. The obvious
ones aren’t so bad, because you know
right away just from the look of them;
but others are slow-acting carcinogens.
Steer clear, OK? I don’t care how much
they tell you words can’t hurt. They can.
Then there are the exaggerations,
the steroids of our mother tongue, which
pump up one’s discourse to impossibly
inflated states, while also exposing
one to secret ridicule, to say nothing
of awkward back hair at some future date
(metaphorically speaking, of course).
Play it cool. Don’t overstate your case, OK?
Finally, there is the F-word. Keep this one
handy at all times, but use it with care.
It is the essence of anise – just one drop
will infuse an entire pot of sauce.
I glance over at the stove. It is the
perfect complement to so many
situations, and there are times
when it is the only word that will do.
Anyone who tells you otherwise
is either a liar, or too scared to live
a little. Trust me. Now get lost,
Hemmingway, I’ve got work to do.
The spaghetti sauce boils over.
He goes back to his desk, sifting through
the elements of style, leaving me
alone with my thoughts, and the anise.
That is so perfectly put, I am at a loss of words…:-) What a gift to have a father who could speak to you with such poetry–I’m sure he is extremely proud of you.
nice…pretty cool to have a dad with that kind of wisdom in writing…bet he has taught you much…i like his thoughts on words and their uses…and even the ones that make some unsettled…in the right place it surely will add just the kick the sauce needs….
Hello Andrew – I really enjoyed reading this. It took me back to my Dad going over my set texts for English with me… we always disagreed! But anyway… I love the extended pantry metaphor: it works so well in describing language.
Love the touching sentiment about your dad and the extended metaphor, Andrew!! A very thoughtful write. 🙂
Your “poison,” stanza…so very true!!
This is wonderful… but do you dare use the F-word?
I really found this charming, and obviously true. Language is so precious, and the fact that you put it into such a convenient metaphor is startlingly revelatory. It reminded me of the Dante essay on the vernacular, whete he says some words have tangible characteristics. Then again, it reminded me of Wittgenstein’s metaphor comparing language to a toolbox. You obviously took the lessons from your father to heart, as the poem reflects great craftwork.
This is one of my favorites of the evening, very tasty and wise, and also just a pleasure to consume, and …anise is one of my favorite flavors, though sometimes, in some company, I make due with fennel seed.
Everyone needs a little anise 🙂 What a wonderful use of metaphor. I will take this to heart when I write.
Saucy, and well stocked!
a tasty treat in deed–you used your pantry quite well in the making of “Spaghetti” dish.