My foster daughter’s teenage voice carries
From dining room to living room, where I
Am grading papers written and composed
By our nation’s future: a bleak future
Bereft of active verbs, and ignorant
Of simple subject-verb agreement forms.
“I’m sorry, my dear, I could not hear.
You need a ratchet for what?”
Was what I called my lunch at school today.
Salibury steak. I hate it; it was ratchet.”
Ratchet: a potent denunciation
Pronounced as if by imperial decree –
A condemnation weakened not one bit
By its selection yesterday to say
That she does not like Number 2 pencils:
“Those wood pencils are so ratchet! I like
The mechanical ones.”
I once attempted to argue the point.
I have, of course, logic and lexicon
On my side.
“Ratchet is a simple tool
That you might use to turn a socket screw.
The word you want is wretched, dear – a word
That really applies not here. Your pencil
May be impractical or cumbersome,
Inconvenient or even redundant,
But wretched it is not, much less ratchet.
Everything you hate or mildly dislike
You curse with the same epithet: Ratchet.
Whether Salisbury steak, or wooden pencils,
Or homework from your dreaded math lesson,
The girl you do not like, the mangy dog
That followed you home from your walk today,
Your sister, whose sharp, incessant singing
Interrupted the movie you were streaming,
All these things you convicted as ratchet.
It’s not the word so much I hate; I accept
That new descriptors enter our language
All the time – words that gift our speech and life
With color. What I hate is that this word
Is your catch-all adjective that keeps you
From using or needing to use the wealth
Of words that might be summoned only by
A little thought. What if, instead of ratchet,
Your lunch was tasteless, the dog pitiful,
Your sister’s voice cacophonous, horrid
That girl at school pestiferous or foul?
What language could you employ to brighten
Otherwise monotonous and mundane
Exchanges in the course of human life!”
She did not hear my words, of course, my plea
To her was as the loud, noisome rambling
Of a neurotic lunatic from some
Cheap and mediocre melodrama.
To her, I am old. My ways are old too.
They are useless, pointless, forgotten.
Or, in other words, they are