The Word

Apr 7, 2017

Today’s poem is The Word by Tony Hoagland. He teaches at the University of Houston and is the author of 5 books of poetry, most recently Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty in 2010. Before moving to Texas, he lived in Waterville for 8 years and taught at Colby and the University of Maine Farmington.

He writes that The Word, “...Enacts the American poetic of paying attention to what is in front of you, rather than to big ideas and big feelings ‘Pay attention’, and you will often see something more remarkable than what is going on inside your head."

The poem is also a kind of prayer, of course, and its steady rhythms of ordinary speech attempt to get the reader into that same state of openness and humility as the speaker of the poem.

In another way, the poem is set against the conventional notion of constantly "accomplishing" something; and tries to remember that pleasure and awareness itself is actually a kind of accomplishment --one that seems rare sometimes in the speed and volume at which we live our so called modern lives.”

The Word By Tony Hoagland

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 beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace 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.

Poem Copyright 1992, Tony Hoagland.
Reprinted from Sweet Ruin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1992,
by permission of Tony Hoagland.