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Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
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Brouhaha

is the Jew, the dark Jews
present in you,
in your very mouth
unbeknownst.
Brouhaha you say after
them, long after
the despised, and so now
in their honor,
from the Hebrew of—

so scholars say, by way
of French—
barukh ha-ba,
blessed be the one who arrives,
said in a tumble of voices,
a crowd chorusing
the repeated phrase,
barukh ha-ba,
greeting the one who does

enter among them,
a caftaned traveler
who comes with news for those
gathered in the narrow courtyard,
spilling into the street,
the wave of greeting passing
through them in an untidy mix
of voices lapping over one another,
what sounds like nonsense

to the gentile passerby
with business in the quarter—
everyone speaking at once
if not quite together,
all that tribe,
heard as from a height
in clamorous babble,
except something emerges,
almost a word—

garble the stranger overhears
as brouhaha,
thinks to store for mockery,
and passes it along till somehow
it becomes the devil’s
cry as he arrives on stage
circa 1490 in Farce
de Martin de Cambray
(or rather it is an actor playing

the horny priest disguised
as the devil sounding
like a Jew apparently—
who knew?  Did the audience
know the sound of a Jew when
they heard it?)
A word from words
unmooring from what they meant,
drifting to something else,

become a word commotion
gave itself out of the confusion
of the tribes—things to speak of,
things to say, however
they arrive, say after me:
blessed be the arrival of that
which brings to the tongue
taste, and sustenance to the body
of our speech.

Jason Sommer is the author of The Man Who Sleeps in My Office (University of Chicago Press). He has won a Whiting Writers’ Award for his work and teaches at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri. (updated 6/2010)

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