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J. Bottum


There were words fit for love—love's words:
shy commoners to bow abashed,
sly courtiers and favored fools,
tongue's pets indulged for prettiness,
blood princes, dukes, to stand on rank,
and kings—yes, even monarch speech
commanding heart's obedience
in beauty's due and measured state.

It was in spring, the lilac blown,
the Judas thorn, that I went mad.
Our civil kingdom's come undone.
Buttocks, bellies, breasts, eyes.
Speechless tongues and mouths turned down.
Beneath the apple dress I saw
wet petals white on nameless thighs,
the wanton swell, disorder's rage—

Was this when words began to fail?
Noon trulls, slick merds, the cancered dogs,
the rags, the clotted graves: our speech
is shoddy-stuffed with winding sheets.
Vows penny-dozen, nothing down.
Mud streets of jabber, sudden, cheap.
The dull pretenders tramping south.
The mute insurgents coiling hate.

It was in fall I saw her face
above the hedge. An order rose.
We walked among the clean-swept courts,
the crowns of marigold, the rue,
the blush and spark of words made new.
Love is lust to meaning wed.
I saw the apple trees grow red
with fruit and gardens bright with leaves.

J. Bottum is Books & Arts editor at

The Weekly Standard.

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