Tag Archives: the dictionary project


by Clay Connally

stag·ing (ˈstājiNG),  n.   1.   a temporary structure used for support; scaffolding.   2.   the business of operating stagecoaches.   3.   travel by stagecoach.   4.   the act or process of presenting a play on the stage.
The first word for napomo! at the dictionary project is stag·ing. And our first poet is the wonderful Deborah Poe. Enjoy:




Notes: Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Bird Migration Teacher’s Resource Guide, prepared by Carolyn Sedgewick; Mark Twain for “a cradle on wheels;” Kerry Scanlan, Vicki Piaskowski, Michelle Jacobi and Steve Mahler, Zoological Society of Milwaukee for “Bird Migration Facts;” Mečislovas Žalakevičius for “Global Environmental Change and Vulnerability of Ecosystems: From Local to Regional to Global Scales;” Selah Saterstrom for “Beautiful women are haunted houses,The Pink Institution (Coffee House Press 2004); Zen Evening Gata for the last line.



Deborah Poe is author of the poetry collections Elements (Stockport Flats Press 2010), Our Parenthetical Ontology (CustomWords 2008), and “the last will be stone, too,” as well as a novella in verse, “Hélène” (Furniture Press 2012). Her poetry is forthcoming or has recently appeared in Shampoo, Denver Quarterly, Yew Journal, Mantis, Horse Less Review, Bone Bouquet, PEEP/SHOW, and Open Letters Monthly. Please visit deborahpoe.com for more information. (Photo by Elizabeth Bryant)

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April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate, the dictionary project is hosting its first na·po·mo! Each Tuesday and Friday during the month of April, we will feature poems inspired by dictionary project words authored by visiting poets. Stay tuned!


And to whet your appetite, I leave you with “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich:


First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

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con·vex·o-con·cave (kuhn-vek-soh-kon-keyv), adj.  1. having one convex side and one concave side.  2. in optics, designating a lens whose convex face has a greater degree of curvature than its concave face, so that the lens is thickest in the middle.

Writer Rae Pilarski concludes this  flash fiction february with her flash fiction piece on con·vex·o-con·cave. Thanks to all our writers and all you readers for participating. Keep posted for more happenings here at the dictionary project.



He remembers his daughter when she was young. She looked like her mother then, so serious. When she came home with her first spider, big as the fist it was clenched in, legs sticking out between pink fingers, she brought it to him like an offering, setting it on the dirty knee of his jeans. As she got older, she spent her small weekly allowance on Mason jars in which to place her growing collection.  He built shelves to house them and helped her poke holes in the lids after she opened her finger with a paring knife. He remembers she hadn’t cried, just watched the drops of blood bloom at her feet. He is still amazed at how smoothly the phrase subesophageal ganglion passed through her preadolescent lips. When she was about ten, he told her about ants and magnifying glasses. He had described the way ants smell as they burn under the concentrated spot of sunlight. She had run away from him then, slamming the door to her bedroom behind her hard enough to set the jars along the wall rattling. He wonders now if he should have detected a pattern much earlier.

(Here he thinks about the first boy she brought home at fifteen, who eyed her as if already masturbating to her memory. Should he have known then?)

What he had always found most interesting about his daughter’s spiders was the fact that most were somehow able to spin their webs in their new habitats, unhindered by the smooth curve of the glass. One in particular spent most of its time clinging to the underside of the lid so that he had to turn the jar over in order to catch a glimpse of it. After his daughter left a second time, he had shaken that jar until the spider dropped to the bottom, its long legs curling into itself.

He can only remember his daughter when she was young. He falls into his easy chair. He opens another beer. He turns on the news. He searches for her mother’s face.



Rae Pilarski currently lives in downtown Tucson and attends the University of Arizona.

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jad·ed (jā-dəd),  adj. [pp. of jade, v.I],  1. Tired; worn-out; wearied.  2. Dulled or satiated, as from overuse.

The interesting thing about language is how just one letter can create a seismic-size shift in meaning. For example, jaded is a word that means disillusioned, worn down, made dull, apathetic or cynical. One form of the word “jade” is also a verb signifying these sentiments. But the noun version of jade is of course, a gem, a green natural stone that in Chinese culture is revered for the qualities it signifies.

When I think of certain aspects of my life lately, I think of the grooves that form in wood after wheels have run over the same patch over and over again. My creative life feels as if it has stalled. I have moved to a new house and although it is beginning to feel like home, there is more I want to do to personalize my space and make it my own. After some difficult experiences over the past few months, including the break-ins I wrote about here on the blog, I don’t feel like I have the energy or inventiveness to jump the track.

So, I reordered a Feng Shui book I owned years ago in the hopes of at least manifesting what I want in my life in my personal space. Maybe by being intentional about the qi (pronounced chee) in my house, I thought, I would find some insights into what to work on now. Feng Shui literally translates to “wind-water”. Feng Shui, for those unfamiliar, is an ancient Chinese practice in aesthetics that is based in the idea that the energy in your home can be enhanced by the ordering of your home and the placement of the items within it. With intention, you can enhance areas of your life. Your space is divided into baguas, or zones. There are nine baguas: prosperity, fame & reputation, relationships & love, family, health, creativity & children, skills & knowledge, career, and helpful people & travel.

Jade Plant, photo by Matt Baume

For each, there are associated colors, elements and shapes that can be used to enhance the area. By enhancing the qi in your space, you enhance the qi in your life.

I think there is something to this stirring of energy. It makes logical sense to me that the way in which our home is structured would affect our internal structures. I think most readily of clutter. When clutter infests our homes, it also takes up space in our lives. Instead of taking the time needed to do some clearing, we live with the knowledge that there are bills to be paid, paintings to be hung, dishes to be attended to. And those items and the knowledge of them takes up psychic space that could be better used focusing on more important matters. If we neglect the spaces we live in, that neglect can wear us out.

The first year I lived in San Francisco, my room was painted a fluorescent green color. This green was a compromise with the prior resident, who agreed to paint over his one royal blue accent wall with this green. “I was envisioning the colors of the earth when I painted,” he told me. “Uh huh,” I responded. It was hideous.

I intended to paint over it immediately, but little did I know that I was entering one of the most difficult periods in my life. I had a hard time functioning much less considering things like decorating or qi (maybe I should have). So through that difficult time, the fluorescence remained. When I was starting to come out of it and began to reconsider how to organize my space to restore balance and wellbeing in my life, I finally went to the hardware store down the street and bought some paint.

I don’t remember the chip name, but I picked a sagey, jade-toned green. Green has always been one of my favorite colors. I remembered that it was said to be a calming color, fitting for a bedroom. I just needed a shade that suited me.

Chinese Jade

In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes beauty, nobility, perfection, constancy, power, and immortality. There is a Chinese saying that states: “God has a value; jade is invaluable.”  Stones have been found in the country that date back to 5,000 B.C. Whomever wears jade is believed to be protected from misfortune (Could it be said that in wearing jade, this person is “jaded”?)

Chinese Jade

I wonder what attracts me to this shade of green. The color is pleasant to me. It reminds me of Louisiana, of the color of leaves when lit by the sun.

I know for sure that it wasn’t repainting my walls that made me reconnect with important parts of myself that had been neglected. I do know that when it was time to paint, I felt a sense of urgency about it. I went from waiting a year to take care of it to feeling like I needed to paint immediately. So, I bought the paint and brushes, moved all my furniture to the center of the room, draped the floor and the furniture with dropcloths, and began to cover the walls with a new color.

When I was done, my arms were covered in specks of jade that would take a week to finally come off. I found them funny, these stubborn bits of paint. While I tried my best to scrub them off, I also took a kind of pleasure in the testament to small changes I was making in my life.

I know for sure that painting my walls didn’t change my life. But I also know for sure paying attention to my environment was a step in taking care of myself and my needs. I was paying attention to all the spaces I lived and moved and breathed in, the spaces without and within.

My room in the Western Addition, San Francisco


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Germany* (jûr m -n ), n. a country in north central Europe, on the North and Baltic Seas; area, 182,471 sq. mi.; pop., 65,899,000 (1946): in 1945, Germany was divided into four zones of occupation, administered respectively by France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, in 1949, the United States, British, and French zones were constituted as (the Federal Republic of) West Germany and the Soviet zone was constituted as the East German Democratic Republic (East Germany): capitals, Bonn (West Germany), Berlin (East Germany): German name, Deutshland: abbreviated Ger., G.
*reminder that the dictionary I typically pick from is from 1955

What is it that defines a place? Its borders? The way it is placed in our collective memory, in our history books? How is that a place comes to conjure certain emotions? What about the way in which people use the land? What about the personalities, values and passions of the people that live there? How do these people’s way of life embed the place with meaning? The study of geography fascinates me because of all these questions. When people move thousands of miles from their native land, why do they often choose places with similar topographic features or climate? How do their bodies or souls gravitate there? How do they know where to go—to the place that feels most like where they come from, the home they left behind? And how does what humans do in a given space define it permanently?

Although my last name is Irish and my mother’s side is mostly Acadian French, a good chunk of my ancestry is German. And I remember when I found this out not wanting this to be the case. I had learned about the Holocaust and was horrified by the stories I read, the black and white photos I saw. I remembered the image that Elie Wiesel wrote of in Night that described babies being thrown up in the air and speared by German soldiers bayonets. And I wanted to not be from there, from the place that produced ethnic genocide, suffering, death, pain. I wanted to not be associated with or related to people who were able to participate in the mass slaughter, in a very methodical and personal way, of millions of people solely because of the God they worshipped and the way their features were shaped.

In knowing that my ancestors came from there, even if it was long before the Holocaust, it somehow made them and me complicit or related to these unimaginable actions, this behavior so divorced from the human capacity for compassion, understanding, kindness. So I found pride in my Irish roots, my Cajun roots, and I ignored my German ones.

And I wonder how we untether a place from its history. We can’t, I guess. And we shouldn’t. But what if a place only becomes about the painful parts of its history? I grew up in the South, in Louisiana—a place lush with cypress and magnolia trees, with humidity, with music streaming out of bars and out of the bells of brass instruments. This is also a place with long ugly celloid scars from the scourge of slavery and the racism that followed (and continues to follow) long after the Civil War was over. And yet it is my home. There are so many things about my home that I am proud of. I see that it is not one thing or the other, not evil or good, not about suffering nor about the overcoming of it. This place, as with all places, is defined by it all.

I also don’t know how to reconcile the fact that the suffering of a place and its peoples also shapes and informs the important and positive cultural identification of that place. Before Katrina, New Orleans was 65 percent African-American, and it is the spirit, music, family and cultural values of the African-American community that is the foundation of the streets we walk on back home. Without this community, New Orleans is not New Orleans. And this community is there because their ancestors were brought over to be slaves to white colonizers.

Germany is not just the Holocaust, but the scars are there. And the scars are visible not only to Germans but to me and the rest of the world. When I went to Germany on a high school trip to Europe, we went to two places. We walked around the cobblestones streets of Munich, where we visited the Hofbräuhaus and watched the Glockenspiel tell the hour in the evening. And yet all the time, I was thinking of the next place we were to visit: Dachau. It was raining and cold when we visited Dachau. We walked around and saw the empty plots, with wooden borders to show where the camps had been. We saw one of the brick ovens (a reconstructed one? A remaining one? I don’t remember now).

At some point, I distanced myself from the crowd and went with my umbrella to stand off alone taking in the scene. I remember thinking: This is where the Jews were persecuted. This is where they stood in rain and cold like this except with threadbare clothing and shaven heads. And I wanted more than anything to cry. But I couldn’t cry. The truth was that I could not feel their pain. How could I? I had never had to experience the sort of suffering they had undergone. So all I could do was stand there and try to understand.

I have had a hard time writing this post because whenever I thought of Germany, these thoughts came to my mind. And I thought, is that all there is to write about? I guess that’s not what matters because this is what, I suppose, I needed to write about. That my Grandma’s name is Rothermich. That my great grandfather’s name was Hupfer. And that it is problematic to come from a place—from multiple places—in which human beings were impossibly cruel to other human beings.

The key to understanding a place, I suppose, resides in the ability to not only read or understand but absorb the feeling of it all as much as possible. To see the broken down barns as well as the stately mansions, the dead trees and the ones that bear fruit. I guess it is about never forgetting the human-created sorrow that will never be absent from the place and yet to not allow that feeling of sadness to be the only feeling. To know a place, in my mind, is to know that it is a space in which both hurt and healing can occur. What happens in that space, all of it, should never be forgotten. And our responsibility to that place is to try to tip the scales, to be better to each other than future generations were and to repeat their kindness but not their cruelty.

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Ash Wednesday

photo by Bob Thayer for The Providence Journal

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and seventh Wednesday before Easter: so called from the practice of putting ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence.

Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

The words were a litany about life, about death, and about sins that need forgiving.

I took these words to heart, with the seriousness and face value only possible from a small child. And as the years went by and the words were repeated, I learned not only that I was going to die but that because of this death, I better repent from my sins. Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee.

What are the sins of a five-year-old, seven-year-old, eleven-year-old? Breaking a glass? Saying a bad word? Talking back to a parent?

Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

The occupation of chimneysweep is (debatedly) one of the oldest in the world. The act of collecting soot, of piling dust, of preparing the hearth for a new fire.


The ash felt dirty on my forehead. Oftentimes, I would look in the mirror and forget, wondering how the smudge got on my forehead, going to wipe it before remembering that today is a day for penitence, a Holy Day of Obligation.

Remember, you are dust.

*How often should my chimney be cleaned?

All chimneys should be inspected yearly by a certified professional and cleaned as required. The inspection is necessary to ensure that the chimney has adequate draft, is free of debris and cracks, has no loose or missing mortar joints and is otherwise free of damage.

Remember, you are dust.

I knew that the ashes came from the palms that were folded into pretty crosses for Palm Sunday. I knew this because my father told me so. One time, when we missed Ash Wednesday services (what kind of sin is it to miss a Holy Day of Obligation meant for repenting one’s sins?), my dad took the folded palms from the previous year and burned them in a small ceramic bowl. Then he pressed his thumb into the dark gray specks and moved his finger from left to right, then up and down on my forehead. He did this because I was worried. I thought God would be irreparably mad at me for not going to mass.

Remember, you are dust.

*Will the chimney sweep cause a mess in my home?

No. By cleaning the chimney from inside your home we maintain control over the dust. All our equipment is laid out on clean drop cloths in front of your fireplace. The hose of our chimney vacuum collects the debris as we brush the chimney.

We can only brush the chimney as fast as our vacuum collects the dust.

The dirtier the chimney flue, the slower we brush.

Remember, you are dust.

When I was twenty, I spent a semester in Rome. While in Ireland on spring break, a friend and I went to Dublin. The only day the Guinness Brewery was open during our time there was on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. She was Episcopalian and I Catholic. We found a church. I remember the urgency of finding somewhere to receive ashes. Then, we went to the Guinness Brewery. We took pictures with our heads inserted in ridiculous old advertisements with parrots holding pint glasses. At the end of the tour, we drank our free pints with the marks on our foreheads, marking a day of penitence and abstinence and fasting. Later, I joked about this time to friends. Wasn’t that funny? But at the time, I remember sipping my pint slowly, aware of each swallow as it sank down my throat.

You are dust.

*Does a chimney sweep remove the black from the wall of the fireplace?

No. We can only clean off the soot on the surface of the brick. Each time you burn a fire, this black changes according to how hot you burn your fire.

Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

I don’t remember the last time I went to Ash Wednesday mass. I still observe Mardi Gras, as any good New Orleanian should. But I don’t feel the desire to have ashes on my head to remind me of my mortality or of the need to be a good person. Sometimes though, when I remember, I fast. And the absence of food in my belly, that gnawing feeling, reminds me of what it means to be cleared out, cleaned out, purified and also, of my need for sustenance.

Note:   FAQ on chimney-sweeping taken from Clements Chimney Sweep and Repair in Feasterville-Trevose, Pennsylvania.


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