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You Could Look It Up

One poetry-reading habit I have is looking up words I don’t know and writing their meanings as marginalia. Yes, I used to avoid writing in my books, as if they were so many sacred Bibles, but then I thought, “Who am I kidding? They actually have more personality when one author makes room for another.”

As an example, thumbing through Dorianne Laux’s Only As the Day Is Long, which I just completed, I came across the unfamiliar words below. If you already know them, or most of them, or even some of them, forgive my ignorance and assume I know some words you don’t. It will feel more democratic (a vanishing feeling) that way.

Line: “Melmac dishes stacked on rag towels.”

Melmac: “Melmac is the name for plastic dinnerware that was created with the use of melamine.First developed in the 1940s, melamine resin is easily molded into a number of different shapes and is extremely durable.”

Line: “The warm days pass, gulls scree and pitch”

scree: (noun) an accumulation of loose stones or rocky debris lying on a slope or at the base of a hill or cliff. Nota bene: obviously not what Laux had in mind, so I’ll take it that the verb “scree” is onomatopoeia.

Line: “…beaks like keloid scars”

keloid: (noun) a thick scar resulting from excessive growth of fibrous tissue

Line: “…those glorious auroras, glassine gowns”

glassine: (noun) a thin dense transparent or semitransparent paper highly resistant to the passage of air and grease

Line: “…the deep scar a gnarl / along the scritch of your chin.”

scritch: dialectal variant of screech (and thus another Laux sound invention)

Line: “Rugose cheeks and beef / jerky jowls”

rugose: a.) full of wrinkles, b.) having the veinlets sunken and the spaces between elevated

Line: “…in a coracle boat”

coracle: (noun) a small boat used in Britain from ancient times and made of a frame (as of wicker) covered usually with hide or tarpaulin

Line: “…and rivers run through, scumbling up the rocks”

scumble: (verb) a.) to make (something, such as color or a painting) less brilliant by covering with a thin coat of opaque or semiopaque color applied with a nearly dry brush; b.) to apply (a color) in this manner

2: to soften the lines or colors of (a drawing) by rubbing lightly
Line: “…as seed onto the friable air”
friable: (adj.) easily crumbled or pulverized
Typically, after looking words up, around 30% will migrate into my short-term memory and 10% into my long-term memory. The other 60% make like Huck and light out for the Territories, never to be heard from again.