Holly Painter


It’s difficult to separate a word
from its meaning. Are the bowlegged look
and guttural sound of “awkward” awkward,
or would it feel less clumsy if it took
a different definition? What if it
meant “scarce” or “shake” or “ball” or “waffle?”
Or what if the word just didn’t fit with
itself, and sounded too rough, with awful
grating syllables forced together, but
meant something sweet and lovely? Wouldn’t that
be awkward too? Or maybe not, if what
the new awkward meant wasn’t shy or naff
but suave. But then awkward wouldn’t be awkward
and we couldn’t move cheekily forward.



Bulbous means bulb-shaped. Pretty straightforward.
But pronounce the first syllable slowly.
Think of it swelling, bulging, straining toward
you. Imagine it engorged and still growing.
It begins to sound sordid, doesn’t it?
But those are all synonyms for bulbous,
far more descriptive than the definition
first listed. They tell us it’s not just
a shape but also a transformation
with descriptors specific only to
bulbs and male anatomy, a relationship
that brings the latter to mind when you
think of the former. It’s not simply chance
that when you hear bulbous, you look to your pants.


All poems by Holly Painter