The Longest Word

      by Peggy Barnett

It was in the school yard of PS 89, Queens, in 1955
that I first heard the longest word of my life:
“antidisestablishmentarianism.”
Ralph Hammelbacher said it fastest:
“antidisestablishmentarianism” . . .
and we each repeated it ourselves, amazed at our brilliance,
at our ability to so conquer the English language.
“Antidisestablishmentarianism”—
we whipped out the word
while sitting at the soda parlor counter,
the jukebox playing Bing Crosby singing
“Would you like to swing on a star?”
as we ate the scrumptious banana splits
Mr. Wolke concocted with homemade ice cream,
using the secret recipe he brought from Vienna
after the War.
He never put his bananas in the refrigerator—
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”
They melted, sweet and ripe,
under the vanilla-scented whipped cream.
I rolled it out again quickly, trippingly,
on my tongue—
“antidisestablishmentarianism.”
But it wasn’t bigger than the word
we had learned the day before in science:
“Hydrogen.”
That word was really scary,
because it was followed by the small word:
“bomb.”


From On Your Left, Woodinville, Washington: Clara Bear Publishing, 2013. Also in Here, There, and Everywhere, Michael Dylan Welch, editor, Redmond, Washington: Redmond Association of Spokenword, 2013 (read the introduction). Peggy originally wrote this poem at a RASP meeting, using three prompt words provided by Michael Dylan Welch. The three words were “scrumptious,” “hydrogen,” and “antidisestablishmentarianism.”