A-E, by Barbra Nightingale


This is where it begins. First
and foremost: singular, anonymous,
first in everything but tone,
where it is sixth, depending
on the scale. Everything depends
on scale. Life hanging
in the balance,
a finite number or amount
such as a day, a month, a year.
Yes, even a lifetime. How much
is that? An actuarian could tell you,
down to the tenth, but still it wouldn’t
describe all the breaths
it took to get there, balanced
on the precipice, the tip
of those scales.


How round, how buxom!
No wonder bosom begins with B.
Say it aloud, it’s a noun, a verb,
a grade less than perfect.
Observe its curves!
How could it ever be second rate?
Slip your lips around its minions
(Babel, babble, bacchanal)
such a gathering of hosts!
All up to their ears in backwash,
bogarting the bottle as if they owned
the world, from Baker Street to Bali—
not one baboon in sight.


Remember Crispin sailing on an open C?
It is only now, I realize how similar C is to sea,
and that I do not suffer from cacography
except in sleight of hand.
The roll and pitch of that arc
a sideways wave hello or goodbye.
Who is to say? When the nights are clear
no clouds hang low, and stars console the moon.
Who waits in chastened corners of darkness?
Who is it out there, alone, baying to the sky?
Who could tell a chord from a choral,
a church from a church key?


Dance! Death says, Dance!
and dance we do—
up, down, around, around.
Desperate steps to ward it off,
hands raised, fingers crossed.
But Death is always lurking.
Hear it rumble: a deep bassoon
from under the diaphragm.
Capital, it looks pregnant,
lowercase—backward, dark, full
of portent, looming endings—
all the words for dead.
Sooner than we think.


Like someone caught a mouse
or swallowed something bitter.
A sound you never forget: elemental.
Think about life as an electron
always following on the fringe,
attracting opposites, repelling
sameness, commonalities,
evidence of evisceration.
Eternally condemned like a bad memory
or a taste you can’t spit out.


About these Poems: These poems are part of a 26 poem collection, Alphalexia. Each poem is on a single letter. It’s not only an attempt to delve into the origins and definition of the letter, but also a meditation. It started from an idea I’d once had to read the dictionary as a novel. I did eventually write a poem about that, called “Obsession Between the Sheets,” but I wanted to go further with my love for the dictionary. It seemed natural to me that this collection should be the result.

Barbra Nightingale’s latest books are Two Voices, One Past, and Geometry of Dreams.   Recent publications include Rattle, Waypoints, The Poet’s Hall of Fame, Lummox, Switched On Gutenberg, Interlit Quarterly,  Out of Sequence, Sacramento Poetry Center, Poetrybay, Screw Iowa, MiPo, Narrative Magazine, and several anthologies: The Liberal Media Made Me Do It, and City of Big Shoulders.  She is a senior professor at Broward College, near Fort Lauderdale, and lives in Hollywood,  FL with a menagerie both four and two legged.


Barbra Nightingale

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