? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 4

Contest Winners

Roberta Marggraff

Familiar Tongue


We don't need the alphabet
to hold the knowledge, to perceive

the sky will snow, the way
the air will tell us almost

everything. Even sleeping lilacs,
before they drift scent across

the drooping porch, do not depend 
on L or any spelling to be

heavenly or distant promise
dreamed by the decaying stair.

As for books, they are largely
varied and amazing arrangements

of letters out of line,
yet perfectly mated

to mean the woman, drifting,
leans over her listless cooking

or the man's heart eats itself
out on the table. We can

know this even if the words
don't say Inevitable

or Grief. The patient alphabet
waits abstractly to connote more

so we might speak without it,
as lovers wrestling with body

language come to a truth
on their own, mouths,

all of them, engaged in fine
interpretation, gender to gender,

in silence understood separately
but together wholly known

wihtout a manual, the letters
making love, or the volume of any
encyclopedia's description of what
mouths are capable of doing. Are children

chanting A, B, C unnecessarily,
their parents wonder. Aren't we born to glean

lovers' etymology, the suggestion
of lilacs, the gradual decline

of stairs knowing only descent?
Snow, warning a heavy blanket, knows

the deep northeaster's bound to drift
before the story's over. The man

keeps the feeling in his bones,
lays the book aside and turns

the lamplit woman, lately
having read the children to bed,

urging her speechless, translating
her under his tongue.