Working in reverse

(About that u effect I mentioned:

E said, leaving the Fun-A-Day art show last night, “‘Sugar plum’ will never be the same for me.” ”

“But,” I said, “but dosen’t it redeem itself at the end?”

“Well,” said E. . . .

I hadn’t thought that the poems might begin to change the original words. That was not my intention. But I don’t think my intentions are relevant, in this instance.)


Sugar plum

Any one of these endearments that has the letter u in it, I said to A recently, is gonna be kind of dirty. And this is true. The letter u ends up in lots of words that can cause a sweet little poem to take a piratical turn. Or sinister, maybe, or just gloomy. In the case of sugar plum, for instance, pus, glum, slump.

And then there’s surl, the only semi-made-up word I have allowed myself to use thus far. It came up in the anagram surl gap um, if I am remembering correctly, or maybe it was surl map ug (is ug a word? I can’t remember. But it sure is in the pirate camp).

In my mind, it was a short hop from surly to surl, which seemed like a more accurate way to say surliness. More like stuff, like a substance, than a quality. And this seemed useful. My Webster’s Collegiate does not have an entry for it. I had never had occasion to look up surly before, though, and this was surprising: its root is sir, as in sirly. Oh, that old i/u connection, so weird, so counterintuitive—except when we think of certain words. Which brings us back to dirty—it’s that u quality that makes it work so well as a word, and I think it’s why dirty came to my mind to describe the aspect a u can lend to an endearment. Lucky sugar plum also has an a in it to brighten it up, to open it.

Also: my mother used to call me “sugar plum.”


What do you call what’s dear to you?

I use a lot of names that are not names: sweetheart, sugar, peaches, darling. I can’t lay claim to the entire phenomenon, of course, but I like it. In order to explore what these not-names contain, I have been making little poems of them.

Here I will think about the words, the poems, about love and the lack of it, and whatever else the endearments suggest. Preliminary findings indicate that these things may include vowels, flowers, disgust, awkward situations, various foods, cats, and the ocean. The poems will not be visible here—think of them as the shadows behind your computer screen as you read this; or, think of this page as a shadow of the poems.

If you’d like to tell me what you call what you love, I would love to know. I have a little collection going.