Squeamish as a courtier sprung
in the sapid act, salivating on Saturday,
I spied it out of the corner of my eye.
Bald and pallid it sullened on its tray,
the rhetorician in Donati’s window,
torn from the herd of lamentation
and pressed against flagged sausages
and stray kidneys no-one knew
what to do with. I made my quick selection
before Leo brusquely called a halt,
silenced Callas and her Miserere
(no Wagner today) and threw out
the leftover meat—or whatever they do
with unsold quail and Marylands—
make stock with them, make light of it, make hay?
Looking away from the ox’s tongue
I chose a T-bone steak—T for two,
though you were away musicking
in the west. What would I do
with a solitary tongue consentingly plump
and almost too long for its tray,
the unaccommodated tongue,
furry slander awaiting its gourmet?
What did I know about pickling or finesse?
How to slice the thing and hold it in the light?
my own tongue oddly rasped by a fig
lunched on with prosciutto from DOC
further down Lygon Street, I studied it
in the bathroom mirror, feeling foolish,
even furtive, alone though I was.
Never had I studied my tongue, pored sharer,
never listened to its twitchy secrets,
this organ (if it is an organ),
this member of oneself, this pink
and pretty projection, tremulous
as a whippet and responsible
for all the pleasure and mayhem one causes
and invites—all the vested music—
all the insults and calumnies—
all the fine mots essayed at tables
or belatedly on stairs—
the darling lyrics crafted at midnight—
all the endearments, all the pledges,
all the telephoned importunings,
gasped words flung at the dead.
And peering at it, newly curious,
wondering where the rasp lay,
superficial or buried like a tumour,
near the tip or sulking at the base,
I imagined a future without one,
imagined a time closer than one thinks
when instead of tongue’s peppermint breath
I would find the void of consolation,
no mots, no stings, no paltry poems
to vindicate or float,
but music of a conscious kind,
inward, chordless, mute.
Peter Rose’s most recent collection of poetry is The Subject of Feeling (UWA Publishing, 2015).