Four-Letter Word

Last night I got caught in a sudden severe thunderstorm, and was running through city streets in the rain. I forgot how unbelievably fun that can be. (Well, ok, except this one time – on my birthday some years ago, when we went in to the city to see Mirrormask – it happened, and I lost my flip-flop in a flooded intersection, and so I was sloshing through a foot of probably-typhoidic water with one shoe… that was less fun.)

Also, I recently discovered that we have roof access in our building. I sat up there a good long while (pre-storm) writing, and reading Patti Smith, and watching the sunset. Some excellent ideas in my journal.

But this one is, more or less, for Donna’s Poetry Mix Tape prompt about taking something serious, personifying it, and making it lighthearted. I didn’t get nearly as light as I thought I would – maybe it has a bit of black humor under the surface – and the metaphor is a common one (maybe I’ll follow up with a lighthearted one about trite metaphors), but I think it still works. For the last stanza, I went back and forth on the choice of “manacle” and “hand” for a good twenty minutes; I still feel like something better could have been chosen.

Four-Letter Word

We pass it back and forth like loose change,
nickels softened with caresses and bite marks
to check for silver. And I’ve done my share:

I’ve pressed it into palms and slipped it
underneath tongues, I’ve balanced it upon
closed eyelids and squirreled it away.

It’s a free market with floating currency,
and no one keeps their ledgers. After a while
you’ve committed counterfeit so many times

that you can’t tell anymore who you’ve paid
and who you owe. Every syllable with a face
stamped on the obverse, a heart on the back.

I keep my stash in a leather pouch at my hip
so I can draw out each time it was given,
flip it over my fingers for the memory

spoken in some darkened bedroom or pressed
against a nightclub wall. We decimalise,
we devalue. The market will correct itself.

Eventually, we’ll be rich as Weimar Germans
wheeling our barrows down to the river,
who takes all the four-letter words it can get:

but I’ll save just one. I’ll work it into a manacle
the perfect size to slip into the sentence, “I–
–you“, loop a hand whose shape is yet unknown.

10 thoughts on “Four-Letter Word

  1. I think you got the balance of light-hearted with the message very well. I liked it the first time through in a riddle sort of way. Then when I knew which four letter word you were referencing, I read it twice more – just for the pure enjoyment of it. One of my favorites of yours.

  2. Laurie Kolp says:

    Beautiful as always, Joseph.

  3. vivinfrance says:

    This is charming. A well worked metaphor.

  4. Joseph, the metaphor may be a common one, but your treatment of it is decidedly not! Beautiful work, as always.

  5. tashtoo says:

    Wonderful work, Joseph…love the progression, the invitation to the senses, smell, sight, touch, all engaged. Fantastic!

  6. brian miller says:

    this is a fabulous piece…and your four letter word love…yes we do tend to over use it and devalue it much in our dailiness….really great capture or telling of that…

  7. New way to look at the word love, a four letter word, a verb. It did have me going barefoot down one alley and then coming up another with new shoes.

  8. rmp says:

    L – O – V- E

    seems so obvious after reading through it again–apparently I’m not that bright–maybe because I’m as frugal with this coin as I am with traditional currency.
    I’m not sure about “lighthearted,” but quite a perceptive look at this truth. plus the ending has a hopeful feeling to it.

  9. So interesting that the four-letter word was not the one I was expecting! We do bandy it about, yet there is a time and place to say it… and ample times every day to show it, to the whole world or just to one person. I agree with “manacle,” since it’s somewhat the opposite of the loving gesture… Fetter? Bracelet? Love, Amy

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