for Sara Levine
I dreamt I was taking an important exam at my former workplace, a medical school in Tokyo. I am not certain what subject I was being tested on -- something like the history of the psychology of the sciences. It was, I realized at that moment, an extremely important exam. Why hadn’t I studied?
“What’s the most important formula we’re supposed to remember?” I whispered to my nearest classmate, but it was too late. The test was already being passed out.
The first part of the test appeared to be reading comprehension. As a child, I had excelled when tested in this way. This had led to an assumption that I was intelligent which had taken years to fully dispel.
Now -- there were so many words I didn’t know. One of the very first sentences included the world kentrobarbative. What did kentrobarbative mean again? Why hadn’t I studied! Considering the condition of my life, how did I ever imagine that I could afford to be careless?
I was relieved to see that a column on the right side of the page included hints, notes and definitions. But I quickly determined that none of the clues were the clues that I needed. For example, there was a reminder that a stool was a kind of low chair near to the floor. There was nothing about kentrobarbative.
Kentrobarbative. For some reason I thought the word might describe an emotional state. Was it something about remaining centered? (Amid barbarism?) But then -- why the ‘K’? I looked at the word suspiciously. Was it the name of a chemical process? It seemed like that sort of word. All I knew was that it was an adjective. My life was definitely not going to get better anytime soon.
I woke up still racking my brain -- what was it, what did it mean? My body was flooded with shame and anxiety. I remembered I was 42 years old. I remembered I had one front tooth that jutted out like a fang. I remembered I was no one’s beloved. I remembered kentrobarbative.
Overjoyed even while still saturated with misery, I dove out of bed. Where was my clipboard? Where was my pen? I dumped my bag onto the floor, grabbed implement and scrap. Lucky life: I was awake, the paper was real, the pen worked.
In block letters I wrote: KENTROBARBATIVE. There it was. I had retrieved it, hauled it out. An actual dream word, dream vocabulary, delivered now into the waking world. I admired it. I wrote adj. beside it. What I needed now was research.
What could it possibly mean, kentrobarbative?
Ken is an uncle, is a doll, and, if you’ve ever slept around in Tokyo, you know that everyone is named Ken. Drunk amid the bright lights of Shinjuku, it seems you have so many options. But, no matter who you go home with, you go home with Ken. Even if you get busy in an alley, you’re in an alley with Ken.
TRO is a temporary restraining order, as one of my friends had needed recently, while splitting up with a boyfriend. TRO also stands for the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization, active where I live now. Tro are the traditional stringed instruments in Cambodia, where frankly I’d rather be. Although the Taree Airport, in New South Wales, Australia, is currently only served by one airline, the city council has been lauded for their success in attracting investors and the future is bright for the airport with the baggage tag TRO.
There are three villages in Greece named Kentro: in Ventzio, Amaliada, and Messenia. I have never been to Greece, but it should be admitted that I recently had a significant crush on a Greek woman with a highly spiritual nature. Of all the faces I have ever seen, hers is the most transformed by a smile. When, while walking in the street, I saw her stern face, I was never sure that it was her. Tentatively, I would call her name and she would turn to me, smiling, my beautiful friend.
Certainly I hope there is no connection to Kentron, the South African arms company, now known as Denel Dynamics. On the other hand, it is very likely the word does bear some relation to the Kentrosaurus, a genus of Stegosaurian dinosaur from the late Jurassic period, known for the imposing double row of plates running along its neck and back, which merged into spikes on the hip and tail.
Mark Mancini writes, “Perhaps the least cuddly dinosaur of all time, Kentrosaurus boasted some horrific weaponry -- and a rather perplexing sex life.” A male making a careless or ill-timed approach would likely have castrated himself on some of his beloved’s harder, sharper parts. Or, as Mancini points out, “When your partner has gigantic, upward-facing spikes all the way from her hips to her tail tip, making love requires caution.”
Barbative, of course, is a “real” word. By which I mean it is a word currently in use in the waking world -- though I am quite certain that I have never used the word myself. Barbative: harshly critical or blunt, sarcastic. It also bears mentioning that my stories are often populated by people going out of their minds and those people are often named Barbara. Even when they’re not, I wish they were. Named Barbara, I mean. Barbara is the first name that comes to mind.
Barbiturates, too, have featured in my life now and then, though mostly in an aspirational way. You can mail-order enough from Mexico to see you out. Isn’t it a sweet relief, just to know you have the option? God bless Mexico.
I am not certain that we are arriving at clarity. I am not sure that we should. Once a meaning is certain, what do we do? Peddle kentrobarbative online, try to get it into magazines, hope people on the street start using it. Petition for kentrobarbative to be shoved into Oxford. Poor kentrobarbative. It’ll just be a tool. Same as all the other words. Ignored or misused. Life’s not so easy when you’ve got five syllables. Pretty soon the youth of America are texting, “Fuk! dats kbt!!!”
Perhaps it is more wise and skillful to protect ketrobarbative from certainty and not shackle it with a final definition. On the other hand, if kentrobarbative has no meaning at all, it is difficult to use. We are effectively handing kentrobarbative over to the language poets, where it will be forced to bore audiences to tears.
We may choose to provide kentrobarbative a meaning which is strictly provisional. A meaning which is only for us and for now. For example:
kentrobarbative: adj. the uncertainty which is inherent when relating to dream words.