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the president and the poet come to the negotiating table

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

by: L.R. Berger

I only agreed to compromise when it became clear they were already stealing them again out from under us: words, one at a time.

Okay, I said, like some ambassador for language facing him hunched over my yellow pad of conditions. He was wearing his orange tie and with the graciousness of one who believes they have little to lose, he said, There are far too many words, anyway. Okay, then, I said, you can have CONQUEST and DOW JONES. You can have BOMBS, but we want the SMART back. This was fine with him. He had plenty of other words for SMART, and would trade it for IMPERIAL and NUCLEAR. TRADE is a word, I said, you might as well keep, but don’t touch SHADOW or PHENOMENA. I gave up SOFT when paired with TARGETS for the names of every bird. He said he’d consider relinquishing CITIZEN for CUSTOMER. I made my claim for CONSCIENCE, but he refused until I sacrificed PERFECTION. That’s when he stood up shaking and wagging his finger at me. He had spotted GOD upside-down on my list. Under no circumstances, he said, do you get GOD, and only calmed down when he heard me announce I completely agreed with him.

GOD, I said, must be returned to God.

But this wasn’t what he had in mind. In his mind were SHOCK and AWE. SHOCK was the word to bring me to my feet, because poets can rise up angry and shaking for what they love too.

SHOCK, I said. You can have SHOCK. But AWE—over my dead body.

Reprinted with permission of the author from, “Shock and Awe: War on Words” an anthology published by the Institute for Advanced Feminist Research and Global War Project.

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