Q belonged to Q.&A.,
to questions, and to foursomes, and fractions,
it belonged to the Queen, to Quakers, to quintets —
within its compound in the dictionary dwelt
the quill pig, and quince beetle,
and quetzal, and quail. Quailing was part of Q’s
quiddity — the Q quaked
and quivered, it quarrelled and quashed. No one was
quite sure where it had come from, but it had
travelled with the K, they were the two voiceless
velar Semitic consonants, they went
back to the desert, to caph and koph.
And K has done a lot better —
29 pages in Webster’s Third
to Q’s 13. And though Q has much
to be proud of, from Q.& I. detector
through quinoa, sometimes these days the letter
looks like what medical students called the
Q face — its tongue lolling out.
And sometimes when you pass a folded
newspaper you can hear from within it
a keening, from all the Q’s who are being
set in type, warboarded,
made to tell and tell of the quick and the
This poem first appeared in the August 10, 2009 issue of The New Yorker and is reprinted here with the author's kind permission.
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