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.