Ode to Words

Natalie Landers

2011 First Prize

To the times you say something just because you like the way it lies on your tongue,
or how sometimes you mouth different languages
because the way it shapes your lips makes you feel like an artist
instead of someone on the down and out
who stays up all night reading the poetry you wish you could write
and throwing words at the wall in hopes that something will stick.

To the girl who sleeps on your front steps
and drinks rain out of the mouths of stone lions
and who tells herself stories sometimes
that you hear if the wind isn’t blowing
and you crack your windows at just the right time
and she doesn’t know you’re awake.

To the man at the grocery store on Mondays
who weighs cantaloupes in his palms
but wishes they were rambutan, mangosteen, pummelo,
anything but cantaloupe.

To the way you try to write about the man and his mangosteens
and just end up with lists and lists
of places you wish you were
and words you wish you could say.

To how you stop in the doorway to speak to the girl,
curled up like a sodden cat,
when you’re getting the Sunday paper,
and tell her the words that you can say,
bablatrice, epirot,
galimatías, glaistig, gilly-gaupus.

To how you can’t speak any language but your own,
which is somehow all the languages combined
in an amorous alchemy of old books
and the way they taste on your tongue
like a fruit, soft and sweet.

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