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Word Tampering

Celibate (n.) Yesterday my-old grandmother asked if my homie had a girlfriend. I said not right now. She said I know he is not sitting up being celibate. One, no one said he was being celibate. Two, my grandmother made the word a hurricane no one wants to be swept up in. Initially, celibacy was a party, the act of refraining and rejoicing.


Read (v.) The process of decoding symbols for information or to escape our own introspection. Always had a sunny coloring until it got shady. No pun intended. My cousin told my overweight cousin, I would love to take you out to eat because I know you enjoy a good meal. Sly. The forever feud they have. Now, read is an attack on looks and character.


Feminist (n.) All hail the feminists, who valiantly crusade. If you listen close to the ring, there’s more fight than a fist in the air, like feminists are running around town waving war in people’s faces. Feminists have always been passionate about equality, never pissed-off rebels. Who tried to poison this word? A misogynist, probably.


Retarded (adj.) sat on a wall, had a great fall—used as a verbal whack. Retarded broke into mentally challenged. Mentally challenged wore a lab coat.  Sounded too intelligent to be converted. Wait for it………fell again. Hey special needs. Welcome to the neighborhood, make yourself at home, but not for too long. Did I just read, special needs?


Cluttering (n.) I have, cluttering, a fluency disorder, irregular speaking rate, improper pauses and minimal breathing—pandemonium spewing from the mouth. Fixing it has been like climbing up a muddy landslide, barehanded. Cluttering. Just wait until this word gets out to the world. There goes my chances for new heights in life. The wind of this new word is spreading like wildfire.


Opportunist (n.) was a ball of fire, a high-flier, ambition to the 100th power. Now, it’s a heister, a shyster, with a hat worn way too low over the eyes. In the tone of my grandmother, folks ought to be ashamed of themselves, raising knives to words, making them be something they never ask to be.


Oak Morse lives in Houston, Texas, where he teaches creative writing and theatre and leads a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. He was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature, a Finalist for the 2023 Honeybee Poetry Award and a Semi-Finalist for the 2020 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. A Warren Wilson MFA graduate, Oak has received fellowships from Brooklyn Poets, Twelve Literary Arts, Cave Canem’s Starshine and Clay as well as a Stars in the Classroom honor from the Houston Texans. His work appears in Black Warrior Review, Obsidian, Tupelo, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Nimrod,, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, among others.


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