Snake Bit by a Word

It was one of those times when you learn a new word, or rediscover an old one, and then it pops up everywhere. For example, one night you might use an astringent to tone facial tissue, and then you read the word astringent applied to a character in a poem.

While reading It Is Daylight by Arda Collins I came across the word philtrum. Maybe I had learned it when I was studying Spanish. I know a lot of words like that in Spanish, ones you use  twice in a lifetime. But no, that must have been las corvas, the word for the backs of the knees. We don’t have a word for the backs of the knees in English, and Spanish has no specific word for the hollow between the septum and the upper lip.  Even my spellchecker doesn’t recognize philtrum. Of course philtrum comes to English from Latin. Spanish could borrow it too.

Here’s a story I found Wikipedia:

According to the Jewish Talmud (Niddah 30b), God sends an angel to each womb and teaches a baby all the wisdom that can be obtained. Just before the unborn baby comes out, the angel touches it between the upper lip and the nose and all that it has taught the baby is forgotten.

That event, learning the word philtrum, was a few days ago. Today I went to a day spa for a massage and to have my upper lip and eyebrows waxed. (How gauche of me to reveal my tawdry attempts at beauty or to admit to the social injustice that I can afford a trip to a day spa when there are people in the world who don’t even have a cardboard box to call home.)9012

So maybe it served me right when the esthetician ripped a patch of skin from my philtrum as she was waxing the peach fuzz from my face. Why did I submit myself to such torture? I don’t really even have a mustache.

Bloody philtrum

Bloody philtrum, crease on cheek from massage table

She didn’t mean to. She said my skin was probably dry. I bled profusely, and she seemed worried I would sue her. But she’s probably right. It was my fault. My skin needs hydrating. In the US we like to blame people. We expect others to take responsibility. The esthetician had a creamy complexion. She asked me if I used Retin A. I said “no, just soap and water.”

8 thoughts on “Snake Bit by a Word

  1. Jill says:

    Oh Christine, that looks like it hurts!

    Somehow, I think it’s “womens’ guilt” that makes you feel like somehow it served you right. Dang guilt! It’s ok to take care of yourself, even to splurge.

    But there is definitely, definitely a poem here! I can’t wait to see it!

    PS: I just got Arda Collins’ book!


  2. Gabriella says:

    Owie, Christine – just watch out for infection, but once healed the ordeal will be behing you. I must confess to you that i have been getting monthly laser treatments to take spider veins from the rose of my cheeks. Such vanity! But i pay for it by being unable to go out for about four days and look like someone recovering from measles for about three weeks. G


  3. christine says:

    Gabriella, after this waxing debacle, I think I might research laser hair removal. Anyway, there are worse places on the body to feel this kind of sting…

    Jill, you will love Arda Collins. And yes, there might be a poem in this experience! My whole point of view was definitely influenced by Collins’ poems. She’s very ironic and in tune with culture.


  4. Julie says:

    Ouch! That looks painful. I’m so sorry, Christine! Take care and heal quickly.

    I am just fascinated by the story from the Jewish Talmud. I had never heard it before and love it.

    I have a dimple on my chin, and I found out that it is a cleft when I was a kid. My school bus driver was yelling at me for acting up on the bus. She told me “that thing” on my chin is called a cleft. Then she pointed at my chin and said, “a cleft on the chin means the DEVIL WITHIN.”

    She was a cruel little woman to point out a physical thing a kid can’t control. But as usual, I just turned it into a joke and got on the bus the next day with my chin painted black. All the kids laughed and wanted to hang with me, so I beat her:) Her little rhyme still cracks me up to this day.


  5. Dave says:

    Good word! And a necessary one. I had heard that story from the Talmud, but until reading this post I didn’t focus on exactly where the angel’s finger is supposed to land — that it’s a just-so story for the origin of that dimple between nose and lip.


  6. ybonesy says:

    I saw this on your Facebook account and loved it. The new words, the openness, the photo. Hey, I did a reading this past week with a couple of poets—Louisville, KY poet Kathleen Driskell and Santa Fe poet laureate Valerie Martinez. I enjoyed reading with them. I love poetry. Wish I could write it. But I wanted to say, I read some pieces where I got very personal about my body. One on stress incontinence. Amazing how universal the body is. And the strange things we do to it and it does to us.


  7. christine says:

    YB, that makes me happy to know you spoke of the failings of the body, and that you read your creative non-fiction. You are mastering the form of personal narrative. Maybe one day whatever you write will come out as poetry. Sometimes it’s only a matter of writing less time, and then phrasing the lines in a shorter pattern. But if I could draw like you do… I LOVE your jewelry.


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