“The Word” – A Poem for Friday

I am not a poet. And though an English major in college, I often felt like I didn’t “get” the poems I was assigned. In the years since, I’ve come not just to appreciate poetry but to savor it. The trick, at least for me, is to slow down. I am accustomed to reading quickly and poetry stymies the impatient reader. The other key has been to stop trying to “figure out” the poem and instead let the words affect you, even wash over you, and then notice what happened when the waters recede.

Moreover, I’ve learned a lot about language from poets – about how strict discipline, playful intentionality, and a willingness to risk odd juxtapositions and quirky images can help you create an effect beyond the reach of ordinary prose. So whether you are a preacher, teacher, speaker, or just a lover of good conversation, I believe poetry has something for you.

In that spirit I’ll post from time to time a favorite poem and offer a word or two about why I liked it or what it taught me. The first, by Tony Hoagland and called – perhaps appropriately for this site – “The Word” – seems perfect for a Friday. I love how when I read it slowly (and it helps to do so aloud, if you dare) I feel it expand off the page, radiating as if warmed by the sunlight it describes to invite me into another space, where delight and pleasure matter as much as work. Read it knowing that I hope you find some sunlight amid the broccoli and thread this weekend.

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning — to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

–to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin (1992)