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Foreign Words


We looked at the poem "Refrigerator, 1957" by Thomas Lux.

Oh sure, the title says it's about a refrigerator, but we know it's all about the cherry. "Maraschino cherries, maraschino / the only foreign word I knew." 

Powerfully exotic and erotic even before you knew what that meant.

So your starting point is simply a word. A foreign word. A word that takes you away.  In your poem, follow the word back to its past or into your own life.

Thomas Lux was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1946. He attended Emerson College and The University of Iowa. He is the author od ten books of poetry including his latest collection, The Cradle Place (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995, Split Horizon (1994) and Pecked to Death by Swans (1993). He has taught at Emerson College, Sarah Lawrence College, the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and is currently at Georgia Tech.

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Who can remember all those westerns?
Who can remember all those episodes
Of the train and the men on horseback,
And later the saloon and the piano player
And the easy women?
I liked Paladin for some reason.
I liked that he wore black and worked at night.
The Lone Ranger was stupid.
And Roy Rogers silly.
My father liked Gunsmoke.
My brother liked Wagon Train.
I liked the burning map in Bonanza,
And the Rawhide theme song.
But I loved Have Gun Will Travel.
Didn’t right overcome wrong?
Didn’t Paladin have a song?
" A knight without armour in a savage land."
He looked like he hated to sing.
Was it Jack Palance,
Or was it Richard Boone?
I don’t remember.
I am lost in these memories of tough guys:
Pernell Roberts, William Conrad, James Mitchum.
Was that what America wanted?
Paladin was a man of culture.
He ate fine food,
and wore expensive clothes,
and lived in a posh hotel.
He carried a business card.
I liked him because he was a loner,
And I loved the name: Paladin
A word I always wanted to use in a poem.

Mark Hillringhouse



She was six.
With blond curly hair that framed her face like a powder puff
Tall for her age
And bright as a sunburst.
She was already reading chapter books.
So I, her librarian, wanted
Her to know she could keep track of what she read.
--A bibliography, I announced to her.
She laughed.
--Bib-l-lee-o-graphy, ,bib-l-lee-o-graphy, she sang.
She stood on her tiptoes
And began to dance around me
As if I were a maypole
All the while repeating her new found song
--Bib-l-lee-o-graphy! Bib-l-lee-o-graphy!
The word wafted out of the library
And down the school hallway after her
Like bubbles from a soap pipe.
--I like that word, Mrs. Fox, she said.
It was never the same for me again either.

Carol J. Fox



My college German was better than your
street-corner English, so we spent a year
together in your language, cheaply.
“ Linsen,” lentils, sturdy brown staple
that a student abroad and a fugitive
day-jobber could afford.

Back home, I’d never eaten lentil stew.
From behind the Wall, you knew how
to salt sparely, then taste, and –
if no one in the dorm-kitchen was looking –
kiss me for that dash of spice.
A year of lentil stew on Thursdays.

By my pocket Langenscheidt’s, “Linsen”
also means “lenses,” translation being so
inexact. Lentils, little brown lenses
for looking at the world, parsimonious
and dried.

A foreign student travels light.
I traversed between two languages, but
I had a passage paid back home.

Taylor Graham


Inamorata my love means
you're number one with a bullet
flying straight into the sun
past all the possible cautions
we tell ourselves long nights
when we remember the last time
round the bend over you
round the bend over her
shattered in the sun like the diamonds
they use in the asphalt
or I heard somewhere that was glass
shrapneled so tiny as to be
invisible in any other light.

Patty Tomsky


I was familiar with the word
well before a car was named after it,
but I didn’t give it much thought
even though I sang it
in church during The Mass.
" Fiat " was just another word
in The Lord’s Prayer
("Fiat voluntas Tua").
In those days Latin
was not something to know;
only to sing - or pray -
along with the priest .
I didn’t wonder,
What did a new car have to do
with that Church-word,
enough to be named after it?
Then along came Star Trek
and I heard Captain Picard
give out the order:
" Make it so!"
Suddenly, hymns,
and commands
all made sense
and became my song:
" LET IT (the Divine Will) BE DONE!"

Catherine M. LeGault



I carried my poems
In the breast pocket of my jacket
While the southern ladies had babies
On their hips and strollers in their hands.

Though my fingers were square
My hands were soft,
While their slender fingers
Had hard determined hands.

I talked softly
Respectful of the crowds
While they with child
Spoke as if it was the first wakening
And they thought of the morning rooster
Discovering the first dawn.

When the first time there,
The poor had small town politeness
But now, everybody knows all.
I went out to find the bus
To go round Roma's circle,
Counter clock wise as if discovering history.

They with their children were
Moving into the unknown future
And out, in the termini
moved on in determination.

Edward Halperin



It was what we were
who we were,
it was why we did what we did
and why we didn’t,
it kept us whole
and unnaturally holy,
souls and saints.

As I got old enough to learn
there may be others not like us
I could no longer hold the question back,
though the timing could have been better,
as on our way to church
that summer Sunday morning in 1959
I asked
Why do we have to be Catholic?

The silence in the car was thick,
rosary beads reverently hung over the rearview mirror
swayed silently,
My brothers, who always got the window seats
leaving me sandwiched in the middle,
stared out at the scenery as if they’d just noticed it,
when the truth was they cared about nothing,
not even that they had to wear
the same dark pants, white shirt and plaid tie
each and every school day, September through May.

My father glared straight ahead and gripped
the steering wheel tight,
My mother acted as though she hadn’t heard the question,
though I was sure I saw her make a tiny sign of the cross
over herself.

Was I to be crucified for having asked the question
I wondered to myself,
but since no one spoke
I boldly continued,
I mean,
Why can’t I just be public
like all my friends and go to their school with them?
(To them, Catholic was a foreign word).

Forty five years later, the story is still told
at family parties.

Susan Stewart