Learning to Love the Obscene Poetry of a 6-Year-Old Boy

Discovering the mellifluous nature of the world's most annoying chant

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Small children exist in a world of chants. There are morning chants at school, chants to put shoes on, chants to go outside, chants for circle time, chants for sharing (and chants for caring), and chants to line up for lunch. That’s all before noon. Chants are appealing and useful. Typically — as any honest parents would attest — kids suck at singing. They are, however, very good at repetition. Adding a rhythm to a recitation both makes it less creepy and provides a bit of assistance with the whole memory thing. The only problem with chanting is that when a chant sticks it really sticks. And when kids start to make up there own, a natural developmental stage, that can be bad news.

My sons, Tony and Tubes, are exposed to chants all day so it makes sense that, at home, they come up with their own. However, instead of using these home chants as a memory tool, my boys prefer to use them to better showcase their favorite words. Those words, ordered carefully by my six-year-old, are as follows: Butt, Penis, Vagina.

For the last five months, these words have been repeated so many times in our house they cling to the corners like cobwebs. They echo in the catacombs of my subconscious along with the phrase “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors Please” and the last hurtful thing someone I cared about said to me. This bothered me when the chanting began because I thought my mind was being, on some level, colonized by profanity lite. But that was a misunderstanding.

Let me explain my breakthrough moment Gloria Gaynor-style: At first I was afraid, I was petrified. I kept on thinking I could never live with that phrase going on inside. But then I spent so many nights thinking how it was sooo wrong and I grew strong. I learned it was actually a song.

Back when I was young and unconcerned with things like 401Ks and how to pay rent and why my body, marriage, mind, spirt and soul were in a state of decay, I frequently read poetry. Not only did I read poetry, but I delighted (it’s truly amazing I got dates) in scanning it for meter. How many syllables are there in each word? Where does the emphasis fall, what are the patterns? I loved answering those questions. Doing so was an edifying exercise because it suggested that logic undergirded acts of creativity. It was my way of understanding that not every brilliant thing is invented from whole cloth, which is something that keeps you up night when you’re a young writer who can still afford to lose sleep. Also — if I’m to be truthful — I really just liked the poetic vocabulary. Tere are many cool and obscure names for the various configurations of syllabic emphasis; words like trochee, iamb, and spondee (not to mention dactyl, anapest, and tetrabrach.)

This is all to say that I’m okay at crossword puzzles and that it was inevitable that I would do a closer read of my boys’ chant.

Anyway, lying in bed one night, “Butt cheek, penis, vagina” still ringing in my head, I began to really think about the words, that is, think about them beyond the annoyance their repetition and the clear naughtiness of them caused. Butt cheek. Penis. Vagina. Butt cheek. Penis. Vagina.  BUTT cheek, PEE-nis, va-GI-na. BUTT cheek, PEE-nis, va-GI-na. BUTT cheek, PEE-nis, va-GI-na. Trochee. Trochee. Amphibrach. Trochee. Trochee. Amphibrach.  The words, when chained, do contain a lovely lyricism, a sort of theme and variation that I find extremely appealing. Clearly my son feels the same way.

The words butt cheek and penis are rather cousinly. On the one hand, they’re both trochee, meaning a two syllable word in which the emphasis falls on the first syllable. On the other hand, one must consider the assonance, i.e. the echo of the long “e” in both cheek and penis, so that they are in some way mirror image words. Then vagina comes along in the end like a powerful mistral, the middle syllable elongating itself, stretching itself into the air. Importantly, there are three syllables in the word and what’s best about the vagina, in this context, is how the “va” acts like the hype man for the GI-na. Seen in this light, the vagina is really just like a penis with a stutter. Beautiful.

That night I went to sleep with images of butt cheeks, penises and vaginas intersecting in my dreams. It was a raucous REM indeed. And when I woke up in the morning, to my son screaming “Buttcheek, Penis, Vagina” a centimeter from my face, I smiled. I don’t think that my son has a sophisticated understanding of language. I do think that he likes shouting words that he thinks are obscene or provocative. And, yes, I’m still kind of annoyed by the whole thing. But he’s also giving me, with every genital-themed repetition, reason to suspect that he’s sensitive to the power and appeal of words.

My son is a poet and he is unaware of that fact at this time. Sure, he’s not a very good poet, but he’s starting someplace and, for now, that’s good enough for me so long as he doesn’t practice his art in public.

 

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