Inventory

p
o
e
m
s

The -ah was more song

& she sang beyond the name.

If the name were river,

the -ah flooded its banks.

Nonetheless, in its song

the -ah signed the air,

made the air mean.

The -ah hitched & hinged

its intimacy. Jaw-dropped,

it crooned its diminutive—

sang of class, filling

a back-kitchen at lunch

where a wok clangs

& a knife trims the gristle.

In the stockroom with her,

it kept accounts, was ledger,

an idea of order among

Schlitz & Old Milwaukee.

From tones in the pharynx,

from lungs that hung

like two clipboards,

came the -ah’s inventory.

She tied the -ah to my name

like that old trick—

tongue-tying cherry stem.

Quipu or rosary,

in the knot was knowing.

She thread the eye to sow

a threnody. Liturgy, the way

she sang the vowel

amid the till bell—

a field song over produce.

A nah, a nope, or uh-oh,

it was abracadabra,

an endnote, a colophon

bearing the binder’s mark.

It lingered incarnate

in the cold walk-in,

or ghosted the stocked aisles

where I stood over cans

of Ajax & Green Giant.

The -ah was wavelength,

a frequency-shape

like a mountain range.

It was the gesture’s aura,

& like a varnish

it lustered my name

& diminished like a mark

in the margin. It was whistlehouse,

a star’s spur, and it could scold

from the meat counter,

where she priced the chuck

with a grease pen tied to the scale.

In her long breath, the -ah

was money to burn,

incense in a Folgers can.

In the ear, as if in a mirror,

I found myself listening

& like all language

it was a grave’s treats,

singing of separateness

& tracing something complete.

Though not on a map,

its lilt echoed the geographies,

& she hummed it

simply over a thin broth

simmered daylong

& suckled on a short rib.

Brandon Som is the author of The Tribute Horse, winner of the 2015 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

You Might Also Enjoy

The Grace of God

Mat Lebowitz

“And then I came in and switched places,” says Blake, “and she thought I was Chris for quite some time and—” “Which. . .

stories

Baffler Newsletter

new email subscribers receive a digital copy of our current issue.

Further Reading