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Dictionary Poem by Jill McDonough

Dictionary Poem

by Jill McDonough

published in The Threepenny Review


I love teaching people how to use a dictionary,

watch them get faster than out-of-practice me,


watch them learn ambivalent or incarceration,

use them in their own new sentences. I teach men


and women in jail how to annotate a text,

underline the words that they don’t know yet,


look them up in dictionaries I bring in for them to keep. Indigo,

heft, cobbles, ostensibly: words they learn while we go


through stories, essays, poems. Kings used to make

water magic by pouring it over carved tablets, then take


the water in their mouths to make carved words come true.

These students run their fingers over the lines, move


their lips to make the words belong to them:

allure, billow, gypsum, joist. Resentment and regret.



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