blackbirdonline journalSpring 2009  Vol. 8  No. 1
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The Whore’s Guide to Etymology

            In early brothels, we
used water clocks, small bowls with a hole
                       in the bottom placed inside larger
ones. When the small bowl sank we knew

            the man’s time was up.
In the Middle Ages, we loved passion plays,
                       loved standing in the town square
listening to Herod call our Lord a brothel.

            Then it meant a worthless, abandoned fellow,
a good-for-nothing, abandoned woman, or a prostitute
                       (good for one thing, at least).
The word comes from the combination of broth and el:

            broth from the Old English
means a liquid in which anything has been boiled,
                       (also, obscurely, the essence of a boy);
and el means god, like Baal, the one who required

            a sacrifice of our firstborn sons,
or like Yahweh who demanded Sarah’s boy
                       from Abraham and watched
in wordless pleasure the trembling, crying child.

            And then his own son, by Mary.
Again and again, he comes to us
                       broken by his own hands;
he uses our mouths to say he’s sorry.

And we forgive him.  end