Once in California testing a bad boy’s new car,
fast car, we’d found a stretch—oh it sailed—
until a white van honked, waved us over.
Printed on the side: Lompoc Federal Correctional.
Our hood was down, that boyfriend charming,
the driver grinned, inquiring: How’d you get in here?
This car is fast, he said. In the van five beige jumpsuits
leaned to see, especially a laughing one
who looked—was mine, somehow, so quickly
we mocked the mishap that had me in the fast car,
him in the van—as I’d have thought then
about fate, about freedom, about laws that ruined
us both, almost. Me being white. Some years
I call to ask how. How’d we speed our way into Lompoc
on a hot Saturday? He recalls other accidents.
People say, this or that is a good work;
and they mean (but do not say) good
for the apparatus. — B. Brecht
Most confusing? Whether we’re inside
or outside the factory. Whether
we practice yoga for balance on the job
or for bowing to the boss who’s come
to crush us. Also the cactus question
of whether we’re opening the windows
for a draught of air or to sneak out
for good, whether these quarter moon tides
bathe our days clean or forecast tsunamis.
(And yes, dear, that does look like western civ
strolling shoreward, many rocks in her coat.)
Most relieving? We’ll never know.
Usage writers have denigrated \ˈfȯr-ˌtā\ and \ˈfȯr-tē\ because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived 2forte. Their recommended pronunciation \ˈfȯrt\, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would pronounce it more similar to English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. -Merriam-Webster Dictionary, usage note
After Malibu there was more to see
or less. Mathematics not our forte.
The towheaded son of a music teacher
who camped on my floor after his sister
died late and high reviewed
the correct pronunciation of forte,
like strategic spots for hiding games
and foreign wars, yet the idiots get it wrong
by saying fortay like hooray because they
sort of recall something about a piano,
want to sound smart. Look it up, says
the schoolmarm: how we laughed. What
matters? Besides death? Everything sucks
time’s lollipop. So I wonder if he’s seen
the news from Merriam-Webster, how
now the idiots not only sound smart,
but are. Poor, luckless dictionaries.
Surely they ache to prescribe, tell us
how to pop the word and what to take
it with. Instead they’re forced into
description, compelled to listen to those
who’d never pull them from a shelf, then
file evidence of the case. Like tombstones.
Because it’s going to change again.
Alexis Quinlan is a writer and adjunct English teacher at Fordham University in New York. Her most recent chapbook, an admission, as a warning against the value of our conclusions [Exit Strata/The Operating System 2013] comprises a series of interventions on and responses to Freud’s essay, “Mourning and Melancholia,” and she is now developing it into a larger project. More poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Drunken Boat, Rhino, Tinderbox, Juked and Madison Review. http://abchaospoesis.blogspot.com.
Image Credit: The Spaniard, Henri Matisse (1928)