promiscuous

Logan Ray Grant12-5-2020

language, the furious river, carries on its foamed and sinewed back all we thought we’d shucked off

Promiscuous
by William Matthews

“Mixes easily,” dictionaries
used to say, a straight shot from the Latin.
Chemists applied the term to matter’s
amiability.

But the Random House Dictionary
(1980) gives as its prime meaning:
“characterized
by frequent and indiscriminate

changes of one’s sexual partners.” Sounds
like a long way
to say “slut,” that glob of blame we once threw
equally at men and women, all who slurred,

slavered, slobbered,
slumped, slept or lapsed, slunk or relapsed, slackened
(loose lips sink ships) or slubbed, or slovened, But soon
a slut was female. A much-bedded male

got called a ladies’ man; he never slept
with sluts. How sluts
got to be sluts is thus a mystery,
except the language knows what we may

have forgot. “Depression” began its career
in English in 1656, says
the OED,
and meant (science jargon) the opposite

of elevation—a hole or a rut,
perhaps, or, later, “the angular
distance of a celestial object
below the horizon,”

as Webster’s Third (1963)
has it. There’s ample record of our self-
deceit: language,
the furious river, carries on its foamed

and sinewed back all we thought we’d shucked off.
Of course it’s all
pell-mell, head over heels, snickers and grief,
love notes and libel, fire and ice. In short:

promiscuous.

“Promiscuous” by William Matthews, from Search Party: Collected Poems. © Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

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