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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 23: 28 April 2024
Prose Poem: 404 words
By Jessica Purdy

For Christmas, a friend gave me a Calendar of Forgotten English


On January first, I opened it and read the first forgotten word: “first footing” meant the first person who enters one’s doors on New Year’s Day. It described the old practice of men going round to people’s houses on the first day of the year. It was unlucky for females to do this, so it was reserved for the men. Cats were also excluded. Banned and locked up, the cats and women would lick their paws and curl up on the dirt floor knowing they would be let out in 24 hours. On the third day of the year (the second day was lost), the calendar told me the word “culch” meant a “great quantity of rain” and I looked out the window to mark the weather. The calendar went on to tell the linked story of the rainmaker Charles Mallory Hatfield who in 1915 sparked a deluge that killed fifty people and washed away half of San Diego. I forgot to look at the calendar for the next several days. Missing those words I had to go back, fearing I would lose out on important information, new words I’d never use except in Balderdash. The fourth day told me the word “fleam” was “a surgical instrument for letting blood.” It looks like a set of keys on a ring, or one of those Allen wrench sets you get with IKEA furniture. Bloodletting could open a door or build a desk. Or kill George Washington, apparently. On the fifth day the word “ghemboles” taught me the old practice of Christmas pranks. These were merry frolics. I’m not making this up. They used to nail people together by their coattails and whoever stopped to look and laugh would get nailed to the ones already struggling to get away. Now the year is over, and the last day has told me that it’s “hunch-weather.” I can attest to this as being appropriate. Yesterday I walked three miles and my eyeballs froze solid in my skull. My muscles contracted and I became a hunch-back. In the mirror I can see my cheeks have taken on the wind’s red slap and are streaked with tears. My eyes blur with slushy saline. This morning, my back pinned to another’s back, I don’t want to get out of the warm bed to throw out the calendar for garbage day.

Jessica Purdy
Issue 23 (April 2024)

holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Her poems and microfiction have appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Gargoyle, Gone Lawn, Litro, MacQueen’s Quinterly, The Night Heron Barks, ONE ART, Radar, and numerous others. Her books Starland (2017) and Sleep in a Strange House (2018) were both released by Nixes Mate Books.

Her recent chapbooks include You’re Never the Same: Ekphrastic Poems (Seven Kitchens Press, 2023); and The Adorable Knife (Grey Book Press, 2023), poems based on dollhouse-scale dioramas by forensic scientist Frances Glessner Lee which were collected in Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death and used to train homicide investigators.

For a longer list of other publications, plus a portfolio excerpted from The Adorable Knife and published by Buttonhook Press in 2022, Murder in the House: The “Nutshells” of Frances Glessner Lee, visit the author’s website:


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