Nickole Brown

Speak & Spell

Of course I always did spell it wrong.
Cause there’s no way to speak and spell things right,
especially after all those years
washing with a wursh rag, frying in earl, stuffing
my drawers in a shiffarobe, settling down into a pilot on the floor.
And it’s true, I got up in front of a crowd, said
suck-ee-yent when I meant succinct, wouldn’t have known better
if not for my boss, red-face ashamed: all those words I’d read
but never heard out loud, all those words we made our own.
Go home, sister. Open the kitchen drawer. It’s the only place
you’ll find a thing to write with: maybe one of his drafting pencils,
too square to roll and sharpened with a knife, maybe a stick of her eyeliner,
greasy kohl brown. Or maybe, under napkins, coupons, and catsup packs,
you’ll find that crayon I always used, the daffodil color of spring
and so short you have to peel back the last of its paper, have to hold
it with the tips of all your fingers to get anything down.
I want you to write pedi, as in get those baby’s shots at the pediatrician,
as in pedicure, as in the whore got her toes painted red. Then scratch out the i,
the singular eye, because the point-of-view doesn’t matter anymore,
because vowels are tricky—it’s already ate a’clock, we might say, way past time.
Add an o, because the o is a mouth, empty and round, a number multiplied to make
nothing. Then add the word file, as in his cabinet, always locked,
nevermind what’s inside, then change the f to ph, those two secret consonants,
whispering into the phone. The rest is gameshow simple: take an e and end it.
Who knew there was a word for it, much less a right way to write it down?
Pick up that crayon again, show me what you’ve learned,
make this into a word, make it a note left behind. Know the good
thing about yellow—it’s so light, she’ll never see,
and to make sure, write it on something she’ll read
but read over—a grocery list, a receipt, a Christmas card from me.

Nickole Brown
“Speak & Spell” is from Sister (Red Hen Press, 2007).