The worst word in the English language.
—The New Yorker, April 2012
To say the word out loud
feels much like rubbing
the flat palm of your hand across polyester.
Like nails on a chalkboard.
Outmoded—I haven’t seen a chalkboard in years
or polyester, except in fleece sweaters
or a 50/50 blend. Must be why
it’s the worst word; the word, passé, the poor bastard
word should be discarded.
Let’s throw it away, then,
call it what it is slac, slæc, slakr.
Or cut it some slack.
Recall the crease, the warmth
of polyester, after an ironing. And grandmother
who wore slacks and slips
and nothing slack about her, mind you,
not her pantsuits, not her hair reinforced with aerosol sprays.
And who would ever wish
to get rid of grandmother,
with her pantyhose and brooches,
perfumes and soap cakes, the apothecary
of old-lady lotions smeared over the whole
of her face in the evenings
in preparation for bed time,
her slacks folded, pressed and creased
traded for slippers and a bath robe,
sleac, slach, laxus, lax,
and relax, teasing her hair with a pick into panels
meant for rollers and each roller
a story we’d heard so many rollers before.
Later, when her cancer made her
short of breath, she told on herself,
her penchant for wrapping
everything in tissue paper,
even her diamond earrings,
an anniversary gift, she, unintentionally, threw away.
We’d all been there. Gone through all that garbage
with her, and still she told it to us
as if we might throw that gem
of a story away, too.
Though we’ve remembered, remembered
the way *(s)leg- (to be slack) is
remembered in slacks, remembered also in
relaxare, becoming something altogether different,
relacher, relais, reles (something left
remaining), something relished.
This poem has been anthologized in the book The Burden of Light: Poems on Illness and Loss, edited by Tanya Chernov (2014)