Head lice: a love story
by Kevin McGowan
can’t jump, which is just fine!
It can’t float on a breeze, lurk
on a theater seat or lounge
hidden in our hotel sheets.
It can’t bear to hang and chill
on a cuddly toy, or linger
on a discarded blouse. Like us,
a louse without a human head is
a dear-departed, former, dead thing.
But still they thrive.
sound of louse was ‘loose’
back before the nastiness
at Hastings and the plural ‘lice’
is the result of a long lost umlaut
which used to sound a bit like ‘lease’.
Our vowels have wandered out
from under every louse and the way
we even count their number has
been discarded and displaced.
Yet the common louse clings
on, with its archaic name, and
its stubborn non jump.
have resisted all eradication
attempts more sophisticated
than huddling together and combing
or picking their nits from each others’ fur
like we’re still chimps. Lice have
evolved to survive our noxious
shampoos, cream rinses, and
angrier poisons. But no louse has,
so far, deigned to jump.
what could be more human
than the urge to hold another
human so close that our hairs entwine
so close that the front of yours
becomes the back of mine. So close:
this deficient pest can simply climb
a louse can’t jump, which is just fine!
Kevin McGowan is a linguist and poet who lives in the bluegrass where he teaches at the University of Kentucky. Both his research and his poetry focus on the power of speech sounds to create and destroy worlds.