The Newcomer

R. A. Allen

This dictionary defines "rooihout"
as a South African tree on page 2624;
"aasvogel," a vulture, is on page 2—
catnip for armchair etymologists,
crankbait for obsessive logophiles.
But for sheer phonetics, a melodious
contender from globalization's onslaught
might be Russia's "novichok" (newcomer).
What a ring it has, what a sound! It peacocks
its "nova"-ness in its initial syllables, and then,
like the triumphant dismount of a Soviet gymnast,
there's the wallop of that "chok" at the end—
a cellar door of a word if ever there was one.

But it turns out that novichok is a nerve-agent WMD
whose mere existence is a crime against humanity,
designed for stealth, synthesized to paralyze,
inflicted for revenge, deployed as an extension
of political menace. So don't be charmed by
its euphony. The Nazis gave us Zyklon (cyclone) B.
And the Sirens' songs were also sweet and golden.

© Short Édition

R. A. Allen

R. A. Allen's poetry has appeared in the New York Quarterly, RHINO Poetry, The Penn Review,
Gargoyle, Amuse-Bouche, Glassworks, JAMA, Amaryllis[Poetry Swindon], and elsewhere. His
fiction has been published in The Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, PANK, The Los Angeles
Review, and Best American Mystery Stories 2010, among others. He has a Pushcart nomination for poetry and one Best of the Web nomination for fiction. He lives in Memphis and was born on the same day that the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism: December 26th. More at
https://poets.nyq.org/poet/raallen

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