An Abbreviated Family Dictionary

There are bits of family which defy description. I do not mean that metaphorically. They know you are trying and they will resist.

Idioglossia

a

A

An expression of misunderstanding or “getting with the drift.” Otherwise, the first and most ambiguous of your siblings.

Again

Another kind of crawl space, this one set with dirt and pickled vegetables. Too barren, too packed for spiders. You could still be there.

Agape

Elvis is also dead. I'm taking my football collection and going home: regulation-size, large squishy vinyl, miniature corporate-logoed, beloved decomposing Nerf. They go in the smiling blue toybox with your baby picture. And rhinestones. The situation calls for rhinestones.

Always

It is impossible to pass a monogrammed bowling ball through your wood-paneled esophagus. In either direction. That's why you feel this way.

And

The cardboard square that starts a story. The open window that frames it. The hot water heater and the cold concrete floor.

Anger

Who can either get or give enough?

Appropriation

He’s fish. She’s chicken. They’re fruit and wheat. Where do they live? Together. What do they eat?

Association

How Chinese food comes to taste like a transformer exploding in an ice storm, served with a side of unrealized cousin.

Aunt

Living on sugar, hiding the cream.

Authority

Infant brawls with infant cousins. Your little thug life all Winston Lights at seven.

b

Backyard

A pile of shit embedded with a crayon. A crunched and vomited frog. Heck, even a mosquito bite on the tip of the glans. No, really. It was always full of horrid potential.

Barn

A perception of heat beyond the reach of thermometers or the precise accounting of echo speed, often coupled with the misconception that bad canning, abandoned, degrades to soil.

Bastard

One of each day. Synonym for “extol” having the additional sense of standing on a barrier island and feeling one is an active part of the barrier process.

Bedroom

Uphill from the rose garden, further from root vegetables, a house is a house is a house. And carrots are thorns that stick where they're put. Other things are less obviously pinnately compound.

Being

That extended period between birthdays when all you can think of is birthdays.

Bone

Undoubtedly involved.

Bughouse

See also bugshit, bugnuts, bugged, buggered, bugward, bugwad, bagged-out, etc.

c

Cant

The pace you keep. When you speak, the language you speak. Otherwise, you don't speak, and in that sense, you cant.

Cataract

It takes two. Or fake it. (Both positively and in a vulgar sense.)

Catch

And one must collect Juice Newton imports. Obsessively. To cover all exits. To make the family complete.

Chum

In retrospect, there’s a lot of this. Recognition in the past implies ignorance of the present. Future tense implied.

Coffle

To divine from a distance the corpses of murdered priests. You are not required to know what you should do.

The Collapse

Be ye Barysnikov or Yakov ye be.

Comity

The continuing adventures of the villainous refrigerator box.

Compass

The sun on the wall made of earth-tone lines.

Constellation

Throwing up strawberries. Don't distract from the beauty by saying "vomit". Sandy and covered in needles, intact in our original syrup, by your side on the side of the road, we beg of you.

Couch

The striped bathing suit on your great-grandfather.

Custody

The baseball fan who shaves a razor ragged. He is subject to your addictions, innovative and banal. There is nothing in the razor cord but power. There is nothing in the fridge but wine.

d

The Debate

We do not help the frog stuck at lake's edge, one leg swallowed, with pellet after pellet to the snake's head.

Debauchery

A close-fitting hat with a visor extending well inward to a more generalized or primitive condition, often as a preliminary to major change.

Declination

The sense that the sun rises in the north, that you forever know latitude, longitude, elevation and cardinal points in relation to your first bedroom.

Depression

A renovated tenement run by the Irish that won't accept the Irish.

Diabetes

You catch it from cereal. By extension, a lifelong habit of predicting the illnesses of relatives.

Dignity

Your contemporary equivalent newsy cap and hilarious hear ye hear ye.

Drama

Imagine the chair and the butt descends.

Dream

A family which always drives away its neighbors, but knows where they live from then on and sends them heavy, empty envelopes at Christmas, postage due.

e

E

Say it again. Say it again and don’t dare stop.

Embarrassment

He stops his kung-fu to make sure you're watching.

Encyclopedia

The payoff for the stair-top shimmy. But nobody can teach you a damn thing. Nobody can prove you're not Spider-Man.

Explanation

You open the package and it’s not for you.

Expression

We have lunch boxes and phasers and we are not afraid to use them. Or our telescoping mechanical fingers. This being before laser pointers, we have to close ranks to put out an eye.

Eye

What architect planned one of three to shine on joists and insulation?

f

Fall

Composed of past and present mice—the house's ribs, the house's fluff.

Family

1) Without question. 2) Naked. 3) Alone.

Female

Don't forget you're at issue.

Fence

The dog's bloody bulging eye and how even that explanation manages to be racist.

The Field

The scene guides your aim. Amid bloody pluck-buckets and the falling magnetized, grandfather passes, snapping a neck.

Finger

It speaks French. Unless you speak French, in which case it speaks Russian with a Kazak accent. When you were younger it spoke to you and with you and you pointed stuff out for it to point out, but one day it grew up and turned on you.

Forget

Redact your cookbook of lard and sugar to oleo and saccharine pills.

Forswear

I am not familiar with your name. Your wallet. Your passage to another country.

g

God

You're old enough to climb from fence to roof to check behind the chimney but your Frisbee is no longer there.

Grandparents

Standing toothless near the footboard quilt storage in underwear you don't understand.

Gratitude

Her father held her hand. She was not one. She was not. She was not one of those.

Grief

Without water days passed slowly.

Grievance

It is specifically built, holding flowers, and takes your particular hand in a general his and her.

h

Hand

A soy meat substitute. A dirt clod fight.

History

Your great-grandmother loved cats, so she learned to stifle sneezes. Now you get teased and you know how you'll die.

Holiday

The apostate wish to end one's days like a foreigner, in a cold sauce with walnuts.

Hollow

Floating price tags everywhere you look. Tiny invisible Minnie Pearls defying gravity, cracking wise at your expense.

Home

Dark closet behind clean clothes. Behind limbo. Just past a state of uncertainty, just inside a pocket enclosed by uncertainty and solid walls.

House

Great-grandmother punches hymns on the Magnus and serves sugared strawberries in consolation. Her organ drones midway between a storm cellar and a shack for curing meat.

Human

Outside the house another house. Outside its fence another fence. Outside the meadow another meadow path past cow shit and mushrooms to the door leading out of the house.

Humors

Black bile, yellow bile, Paul and Ringo. And us and us 'til we break up break up.

i

I

So much investment for just a spectacle.

Insanity

A graffito lemon on the back of your billboard, so to speak.

Intellect

You think you know the flower in your pot. Then it up and dies on you.

Is

Well-water. Hide of the gator which once served as atmosphere. Empty rooms as passages, sparks to the basket of fire.

Issue

It was not our hearts’

j

Judgment

A sexual perversion where inertia and nurture meet a prefab concrete slab.

Junkie

All other considerations aside, there's something to be said for one perfect moment.

Just

As lonely as your father's single issue of erotica.

k

Keen

He's gone, he's gone, the Mondrian lamp. Our stylish Gaelic mourning could never bring him back.

Kindness

Anything less than hand-packed buckshot insults both your spouse and your tumor.

Kiss

In your time of mythical seizures it was the wires in the darkness and the crusty glue circles on your skin and deep in your hair.

Knots

Microscopically regional superstitions such as, "Don't praise the chicken before it's fried," or "Never fish where you feed the ducks," or "An arrow to the arm brings luck."

Korrigan

A firm, paralyzing conviction that everyone knows how to get to your house, where you hid your postcard collection, who threatened to kiss you in the backyard tent, what you've tried to forget, where your sentence ends.

l

Laughter

To frame your anger as a kind of compliment.

A Letter

You’ve a different potion now. Hold out your hand. You’ve a different potion now. Hold out your hand. Hold out your hand.

Like

That bamboo pagoda made eternal under glass. How folks don't know they come to see it not you.

Logic

To learn of a Walking Horse and deduce a breed that flies.

Lost

All the fabric ever woven by your sister's dusty loom.

Love

What system can compete with the clarity and grace of my TI PC clone's single font?

Luggage

He lied about the contents of his house.

m

Male

Don’t forget you’re at issue.

Memory

Larger than before, our apartment seemed two apartments joined. We could’ve doubted everything, but chose only the one incident, which sounded like a psychotic episode.

The Mind

Endless Andy Griffith. A bottomless strawberry Seagram's wine cooler. And a crawfish hole, once you break off the stubbled mud cap and drop twine.

Mother

Transitive and intransitive. Temp to perm.

Mysterious

Look at your toe hanging sideways all like that.

n

Name

You know how Scooby and the gang run away from the ghost into the haunted mine then they fall into a mine cart and zoom away but the ghost pops up in the same mine cart, zoinks? That's me.

Neighbors

A house erupts with dirt you can hurl then rises and settles and seals you out.

Nervous

The small pen with the doghouse persists long past the days of the dog.

Nest

Touch and it dies starving.

Net

Clothing doesn’t save you. Knots and buckles turning rope to uncles as old rags to armed guards.

Nightmare

I know you. No, I mean it: I really know you.

o

Obviously

Your Scots-Irish grandparents were secretly Japanese. Witness their cutlery and Danish Modern lines.

Orgasm

I'd walk a lonely mile for a yoga joke.

Overkill

Only fascists think it's anything but funny.

p

Passage

In temper, she kicks a hole in the wall. Not supposedly, but with some strength.

Past

A series of frogs disappearing into a defined, straight length of PVC pipe, both openings visible and kid-watched.

Pets

Licking your ear they mark the time.

Pine

Your most mysterious playground impresses itself upon your sense of sexuality — fallen logs, silence, and a prickling dead carpet — and not, as you'd think, the other way around.

Pinnate

A friend's good mother lasts forever.

Playground

The top of the rocket still unlocked, where the rust is worst.

Pockets

Myths dispensed to explain the mundane: I broke my hand on someone's face; I punched a brick playing pinners; I can play piano but I cannot make a fist.

Pride

So few can honestly say they had a relative squashed by a safe.

Prostitution

Just because you're popular doesn’t mean you're going to be happy.

Psychology

To sample for money cookies rendered chemically soft, this being less abhorrent than enlisting one's offspring in the effort. By degrees. Always by degrees.

Punishment

That giggle in the corner where the bookcase hides the wall.

Purpose

Next door, someone collected aluminum cans, naming each one for a holiday. Christmas, sigh, crush. Easter. New Year’s.

q

Question

There comes a point once you’ve made your point when it’s just plain rude to continue.

Quick

Where through a microscope footprints.

r

R

Is it?

Read

“Railway schedules, baseball scores, and abnormal psychology.” Word by word like the names of the dead.

Reap

When the plow rolls over you, you stand up and make babies. Then you slice them into pieces like some younger, less forgiving plow.

Reason

Tying all the bras in knots.

Recognition

The quiet pride of the designated cricket squisher.

Relatives

To use every part of the sarcastic buffalo.

Religion

Just so you know, I am capable of a multiple-year boundary-setting exercise.

Respect

An unmoored hatred of men in uniforms. Your kill shelter rescue mutt nervous system.

Rhinestone

A surprise flash of sympathy for the agreed-upon villain. You extend your hand and Jackie Gleason drawls, “nice lady.”

s

S

It is.

Saccharine

Martinis and cigarettes in opposition, in combat, throat to throat, as if it was about anything but beauteous glassware, as if there was anything left to win.

Scruples

They're made of ham.

Setting

You can sit in dignity at the family table, holiday over your head, turkey carcass demanding respect. But you're still an inveterate smart-ass.

Sewage

Indefinable and omnipresent. Everything which settles and soothes. Float on it.

Sex

The drive-in embarrassment film festival admits only Buicks. Huge, beige, convertible Buicks with plenty of room for fat young legs.

Shotgun

My son keeps her letters. I forget to write. This

Strawberries

There, under the textured yellow spray paint. You were playing doctor. I can smell it.

Stuff

Roman decadence in the form of home-canned tomato juice. It's like a mason jar would melt before we'd prove our cut crystal, Lit a Turque, tiki bar, telephone table, sheepskin rugs and chifforobes are all in good taste.

Suburb

Set down even amongst the yokels, who with you want barbarians lost forever without elevated, shining, compass-point Rome.

Supposedly

One minute you're addressing the foundation. The next, you've embarrassed your folks at the rally with an inappropriate reference to your foe's balls. In your shiny jacket you peel away like a slug awash in beer. It's always like this. This is how you will always go.

Survival

He held her dress responsible. Holding her, he dressed responsibly. Responsibly, he held her dress. She undressed in response to his hold on her. He undressed, withholding. She dressed and held on.

Syrup

A soup you can make yourself. A pocket soup.

t

Texture

The brakes catch your continuing fall.

These

Zombie drive-in theaters show zombie matinees.

The Thicket

There will be a half-trailer. There will be a double-wide. There will be hyphenates for everyone: half-remembered ho-hum hanky-panky; half-mast fact-finding get-togethers; hush-hush passer-by check-ins; ex-officio bel-accoyles; self-service follow-ups; far-ranging life-size in-depth mind-blowing hard-core pell-mell adjustable-pitch all-weather fare-thee-wells.

This

Too many wells to be a barren land. Too many fat camels digesting mysterious breakfasts.

Thought

A nightmare Tennessee incarnate in the heat, all fetlocks and cock, compressing children for the climbing roses.

Ticks

Not the dankest citizens of your best friend's crawl space. Still, there can be worse repercussions than a lifelong obsession with the greased-up lady in the fireman's hat.

Time

Increments of pets.

Toothpaste

What it teaches about ambition. The old-fashioned kind, not modern contraptions to ensure you get every drop of so much less.

u

Uncles

Endless clown parties.

Understanding

I knew the thing to do was slice fillets for my friends. But when I held him in my arms and knew I had to smother him or break his neck, I couldn’t do it. I looked around for mother.

v

Valence

Our house lies flat, walls fallen, roof blown away. From the cracks scamper guinea pigs and poodles shaking off dirt and mold. Our station wagon’s been packed and waiting for over 20 years.

The Vapors

Sometimes, just sitting around, I smell rubber friction-burned on ice.

Violence

He passes through. He comes to join the association.

w

Was

Expressed as age-at-incident to parent-age-at-incident over individual obsessive degree. It is irrational. It is endlessly specific.

Water

Our green hill leads to a forest. Or runs under. Or our green forest turns brown over the hill. This forest fallen with trees where the hill meets its tall green guts. Where and how should we build our house? Our green hill runs under our forest.

Where

Forty years weeping, good buddy. Forty years striving. Forty years afraid you're rubber duck minus one on the lingo.

Will

To bequeath to your heirs the demitasse spoons of a great and defeated evil.

Wit

Still and ever champion of the neighborhood asphyxiation game.

x

X

Simply, your point of view. Reflexive and derivative, scientific where it is mechanical, Middle Welsh where it is not Louisiana French, biblical and talmudic where it is not augmentative and unapologetically lowbrow.

Xylophage

You chip soup. You bark sherbet. You hack not carve what your host proffers.

Xyster

Really, anything I could say would be sexist. Or at best fraternal. Have you two met?

y

You

Objectively, a silvered substrate, sodium oxide and sand. Everything else is up for discussion, but mostly it's just...

Your

Great grandmother's pills on the quilt, intermingled and uncountable. Great baby fistfuls.

Yourself

The big wheel best serves those who've grown too strong, scrunched between the cracked seat and the hollow eponymous skidding doodad.

Youth

Sun, positive, male genitals, spare tires, church keys, pocket knives. Anything that will do in a pinch. Anything you might happen to find in your pants.

z

Zero

Don't stop you're there.