Friday, March 11, 2011

Adverbial Paradoxes


It’s the high-five of words
with a swish of sound,
an affirmation of what is
and what might come.
In one small breath,
it can change us with its pledge.
Its covenant, sometimes superstitious,
like crossing one’s heart
or kissing the Book,
locks us to the future.

Yes is the adverbial wishbone of fate,
an affidavit of hope,
washing, like a tidal wave,
politics into history,
geography into space.


We say it when all else fails,
and we are at nerve’s end.
It’s a proud word with an emphatic O
and said with light speed.
The exclamation bursts
like a dark fist from our tongues.

No is an unambiguous disclaimer,
shouting miles away from maybe,
light years from yes.
It’s a stubborn word
bellowing from the larynx and oral cavity.
Yet, no needs repeating
like learning a foreign language
or the multiplication table for the first time.

It’s a saucy adverb,
the least breath of sound,
smarting like jalapeños against the palate,
and it leaves no doubt.


It’s a word full of promise, a word like sex
ringing with possibility
like a second, sidelong glance,
a cousin of perhaps, a distant relative of chance
with no present, without guarantee,
a nondescript meaning with a built-in mortality
but more alluring than yes
and not as confident as no.

Maybe puts us on parole, sentencing us
with ellipses, hurling us into doubt
where imagination becomes as thrilling
as the goal itself.  It’s a word ready to lie,
an adverbial paradox full of hope.
It keeps us hungry, and we say it
to our children and loved ones
because it’s less harsh than no
but not quite yes, knowing all along
it will be one or the other.

“Maybe” was originally published in Poetry, 1992; “No” was originally published in Negative Capability, 1993; “No” received an award from the Illinois State Poetry Society in 1993; “Yes” was originally published in the California State Poetry Quarterly, 1994.

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