I want the hours back I’ve spent
chasing words through the crawlspace under my house,
like rodents my cat won’t catch.
There is a poetry to dirt under your nails
when it comes from the garden,
from hours in evening sun,
palms stained green from pulling weeds,
but none such lyricism to the choking filth
of basement dust that comes out in sneezes two days later,
and if you win
you have a dead rat to show for it.
Some men (and god, yes, some women) fetch their dripping words
from under lily pads and in the bends of streams
and hold them up proudly by the mouth for cameras,
hooks dangling from the corner,
all smiles as they say
something clever about patience.
Their hands stink of the words for days
but their faces beam and they earned the stink
on the water, under the sky,
and they sit that night around fires
and tell stories of the silver, flitting words
as though they could keep them alive out in the dry air.
Words are hideous things when we can’t mean them.
(When we must give them anyway.)
I am a spelunker of words,
grabbing them by tails
and hauling them out of the gravel and joists,
as often dumping them quietly behind the barn
as showing them to the horrified household.
They are equally dreadful when we mean them and can’t give them,
when they find a hollow wall we didn’t think to check
between the breezeway and the bathroom,
and stay there till they die,
brilliant little survivors who still need a way to eat,
and ruin the air for months till they’re forgotten.