I love to lick English the way I licked the hard
round licorice sticks the Belgian nuns gave me for six
good conduct points on Sundays after mass.
Love it when ‘plethora’, ‘indolence’, ‘damask’,
or my new word: ‘lasciviousness,’ stain my tongue,
thicken my saliva, sweet as those sticks—black
and slick with every lick it took to make daggers
out of them: sticky spikes I brandished straight up
to the ebony crucifix in the dorm, with the pride
of a child more often punished than praised.
‘Amuck,’ ‘awkward,’ or ‘knuckles,’ have jaw-
breaker flavors; there’s honey in ‘hunter’s moon,’
hot pepper in ‘hunk,’ and ‘mellifluous’ has aromas
of almonds and milk. Those tastes of recompense
still bittersweet today as I roll, bend and shape
English in my mouth, repeating its syllables
like acts of contrition, then sticking out my new tongue—
flavored and sharp—to the ambiguities of meaning.
Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1997
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.