“Earlier Errors” Commentary:

Earlier Errors

I was once told I had a Planter’s Wart
on my foot but I didn’t know why
it would be named for that guy in the ad
for Planter’s Punch, white suit, Panama hat.

Sixty years later I stumble on Plantar’s
Wart, meaning the sole in Latin, planta,
so it had nothing to do with a plantation
or a punch with rum, sugar, bitters, you know,
including grenadine (pomegranate juice)
which has nothing to do with grenadier, 

a thought I almost had. Back then I confused
“cavalry” and “Calvary” on my tongue,
a problem for a Baptist who watched westerns.
I thought “miscellaneous” was a word
my mother made up (although it could have been
a Greek king) until someone else said it too.

The wart disappeared. How many ailments,
how many benefits have worn away?
But we step on, through the sweets and bitters,
the way we do, one sole flat down, the next,
planting one word after the other,
Christ with his cavalry, one soldier
on the hill of Calvary with his grenade,
the pin loosened, and a cup of rum.
Good King Miscellaneous on his throne.


The first line came out fairly satisfactorily at 10 syllables and I often try to take that as some kind of charm, that that sets the tone of rhythm so I often try to follow that. I do think that 10 syllables more than echoes the standard English iambic pentameter line and is good for such conversational talk in a poem. Yes, I push many lines a syllable or two over that but few fall short of that.


I’m very aware of my early experiences with language and I’ve told the miscellaneous story, that I thought it was a private word my mother had made up, to several friends. I had never dealt with my wondering about the “Planter’s Wart” I had on my foot, diagnosed by a cousin in medicine. When I looked it up, sixty years later, I found that my notion of Planter was false; that the word was Plantar and I put this information into the poem.

While I was looking things up, I decided to search for “planter’s punch” and found, among other ingredients, grenadine, realizing I didn’t even know what that was so I looked that up and found pomegranateGrenadier was on the same page, of course, and I looked that up, wondering if it had something to do with grenade (it did). Another difficult distinction for me at that age was cavalry and Calvary and that came into the poem.

Then I brought in the old story of my experience with the word miscellaneous (without the lengthy narrative I usually told it in).

How does one end a poem that starts out consisting of random, or only personally-directed, word searches? This poem illustrates one way: try to bring everything previous together at the end.

After I remembered the wart had disappeared, required no medical attention, I started to think about “life” in general and in a couple of lines realized I needed to get away from thoughts-on-life-in-general. When I found myself using “sweet and bitters,” referring to a recipe for planter’s punch, I realized I could bring the other confusions in and play it straight, as if Christ did have a cavalry and there was a soldier at Calvary, with a grenade, of course.
The echo of “Good King Wenceslas” with “miscellaneous” gave me my last line.

I take this poem as an amusement, a trip through language that, after discussing childhood confusions, ends up by presenting them as the actual reality and stops the poem there.