It comes up all the time, something you barely can look at
(let alone swallow) is served up as a treat
by an unctuous waiter who has overestimated your need
for a treat more challenging than sorbet. He wishes you
a happy mouth. It’s a joke that makes you grit your teeth
against a spoon so small it might be used to scoop up coke
after hours of bringing oily eggs or black paté like coal
to a reluctant fire. Upstairs, the eyes survey one’s neighbors –
a man in boat shoes who has no socks on and has no boat,
a woman shaking her Rolex – and the brain thinks
we are not amused. There’s no language stranger
than French, the mouth at the root of this idiom,
one that might mean a laughing butcher or gay slaughter
with an “r “ attached at the end . . ..
What started me off was being stuck in a bus
in an automotive snarl. In Bordeaux they call a traffic jam
a bouchon, as if the cars were stoppered up like wine
in the neck of a bottle, bouchon being the word for plug,
the stopper in a drain or the mouth of a cannon,
while the closest verb is an act performed in the back
of a car by a woman of a certain type. I don’t mean to imply
emboucher, which is not to kiss but how our lips embrace
a trumpet to make a sound not so very different
from that honk a man makes with his hand on the horn,
as angry as a fly in a bottle. Perhaps the culinary idiom comes
from sex, likening the male member to a trumpet or a wand
suspended in the mouth, awaiting the serenity to let go.
This poem originally appeared in Volume 5 of The Ampersand Review.
MICHAEL SALCMAN is a physician, brain scientist and art critic. He served as chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. Presently Special Lecturer at the Osher Institute of Towson University, he lectures widely on art and the brain. Recent poems appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Hopkins Review, New Letters, Notre Dame Review, Ontario Review, Harvard Review, Raritan, and New York Quarterly. His work has been heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and in Euphoria, a documentary on the brain and creativity (2008). Author of four chapbooks, most recently Stones in Our Pockets (Parallel Press), his collection The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises Press), was nominated for The Poets’ Prize in 2009 and was a Finalist for The Towson University Prize in Literature. The Enemy of Good is Better is forthcoming in 2010/2011 (Orchises).