The spelling bee is on TV tonight
and the kids of today are showing
proudly, awkwardly, what they know.
What they know is the next letter
and, somehow, the next and the next.
This is impractical beauty, magic
as pointless as linking rings.
They are dogs catching frisbees,
chimpanzees riding unicycles—
still, an impressive feat, this spelling,
this dense knowledge of language.
This little girl knows everything.
Maybe she can end the war, cure
malaria. Maybe she can answer those
real questions, the ones about love
and the dark pockets between planets
and the dreams that don’t go away.
That’s why we watch, right? To see
the future, a glimmer of immortality
in the myopic eyes of a 12-year old?
We’ll never memorize Webster’s,
but if she can, if she can spell words
she’s never even spoken, never even
seen, then maybe cynicism is dead.
Tonight, hope is reborn, peace
and love are alive and well, so
when she spells poiesis, you can’t
help but smile, you can’t help but
imagine contagious innocence
spreading from the war-torn corners
to the towns terrorized by mudslides.
All’s well until that goat-footed
shmuck gives her weltschmerz,
until she asks for the definition,
until the official pronouncer, with
unmistakable regret, explains
that weltschmerz is a sentimental
pessimism, a slight depression
at the realization that reality never,
never ever lives up to our ideals.
How then do we take it when,
after much thought, much time
and deep, true consideration,
she opens, on our behalf,
with a V and proceeds to
either slaughter the Germans
or be slaughtered by them?
Author Discusses Poems