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.

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