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Ode to American English
by
Barbara Hamby


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I was missing English one day, American, really,
with its pill-popping Hungarian goulash of everything
from Anglo-Saxon to Zulu, because British English
is not the same, if the paperback dictionary
I bought at Brentano’s on the Avenue de l’Opera
is any indication, too cultured by half. Oh, the English
know their dahlias, but what about doowop, donuts,
Dick Tracy, Tricky Dick? With their elegant Oxfordian
accents, how could they understand my yearning for the hotrod,
hotdog, hot flash vocabulary of the U. S. of A.,
the fragmented fandango of Dagwood’s everyday flattening
of Mr. Beasley on the sidewalk, fetuses floating
on billboards, drive-by monster hip-hop stereos shaking
the windows of my dining room like a 7.5 earthquake,
Ebonics, Spanglish, "you know" used as comma and period,
the inability of 90% of the population to get the past perfect:
I have went, I have saw, I have tooken Jesus into my heart,
the battle cry of the Bible Belt, but no one uses
the King James anymore, only plain-speak versions,
in which Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead, says,
"Dude, wake up," and the L-man bolts up like a B-movie
mummy, "Whoa, I was toasted." Yes, ma’am,
I miss the mongrel plentitude of American English, its fall-guy,
rat-terrier, dog-pound neologisms, the bomb of it all,
the rushing River Jordan backwoods mutability of it, the low-rider,
boom-box cruise of it, from New Joisey to Ha-wah-ya
with its sly dog, malasada-scarfing beach blanket lingo
to the ubiquitous Valley Girl’s like-like stuttering,
shopaholic rant. I miss its quotidian beauty, its querulous
back-biting righteous indignation, its preening rotgut
flag-waving cowardice. Suffering Succotash, sputters
Sylvester the Cat; sine die, say the pork-bellied legislators
of the swamps and plains. I miss all those guys, their Tweety-bird
resilience, their Doris Day optimism, the candid unguent
of utter unhappiness on every channel, the midnight televangelist
euphoric stew, the junk mail, voice mail vernacular.
On every boulevard and rue I miss the Tarzan cry of Johnny
Weismueller, Johnny Cash, Johnny B. Goode,
and all the smart-talking, gum-snapping hard-girl dialogue,
finger-popping x-rated street talk, sports babble,
Cheetoes, Cheerios, chili dog diatribes. Yeah, I miss them all,
sitting here on my sidewalk throne sipping champagne
verses lined up like hearses, metaphors juking, nouns zipping
in my head like Corvettes on Dexadrine, French verbs
slitting my throat, yearning for James Dean to jump my curb.

From Babel (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Copyright by Barbara Hamby.
Used with the author's permission
.

 

Purchase a framed print of this poem.

Barbara Hamby was born in New Orleans and raised in Hawaii. Author of five books of poetry, she now lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where she is a Distinguished University Scholar and professor at Florida State University. Winner of a 2010 Guggenheim poetry fellowship, Barbara discovered a passion for words early on; her love for them is obvious in the razor-sharp wit and rapid-fire alliteration which so often defines her poetry. To learn more about her, visit http://barbarahamby.com/.  

 


Post New Comment:
paula:
Just fabulous!
Posted 10/08/2014 02:19 PM
karenpaulholmes:
Just heard her read this poem in Atlanta. Love her work and her hubby's too (David Kirby).
Posted 10/08/2014 07:54 AM
Latha:
Whew!
Posted 10/08/2014 12:25 AM
jonidee61:
Wow!
Posted 10/07/2014 11:33 PM


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