The Word

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I have a bruising relationship with a Major American Poet, founded on mutual antagonism—what with each of us trying to top the other's last witticism. More often than not, he betters me, although I'd never admit it to his face.

A pitiful example.

Last February 25th I found myself sardined in the back seat of a crowded van. Who should sit next to me for the two-hour drive from Laity Lodge to the San Antonio airport but the MAP himself? I offered him a breath mint, not that anything was wrong with his breath.

For the first hour we went after each other to the moderate amusement of the rest. But then I let slip, to my eternal regret, that in my long life, though educated beyond my competence, I'd never been asked to write a poem.

Then and there he gave me an assignment. To write a poem. A poem about water.

"Any stanza form in mind?" I asked casually.

"Four tercets or three quatrains," he replied casually.

"End rhyme?"

"Dead as a doornail!"


"I come to bury Caesura, not to praise him."

"And what about meter?"

"Do you like Mr. Iamb?"

"I'm nuts about Mr. Iamb."

"Miss Anapest it is then."

"But I loathe the Anapests!"

"To make it easier, begin with the word No," he said.

"No need to make it easier," I replied.

"To make it easier still," he said, by which he meant to make it harder, "begin with the word Not."

"Not that there's anything wrong with that," I said.

And so that became the first line of my first, and final, poem: "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

As an afterthought he offered to help, meaning he'd gladly meddle.

"I'd rather die than accept help," I told him.

Three months since that encounter, I've yet to come up with a second line. But my deadline is February 25th.

Does this pathetic tale have a moral?

Well, yes and no.

My "Yes, I can write a poem if only someone asks" should have been the beginning of my "No, I can't write a poem, no matter who asks."

Yes, I'll pay the price. I'll read my odious little ode at the next meeting of the Chrysostom Society, the writers' group we both belong to, the one that meets at Laity Lodge in the dead of winter. And yes, I'll humiliate myself to the amusement of all present. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But what I meant to say, when I began this sad story, is that "no" is often the beginning of "yes." A man proposes, asks if the woman'll say yes, but she says no. A thousand times no. On the thousand-and-first time, when he has no right to expect any answer but no, she says yes.

And so it is with us. A thousand times we are asked by God—the perfect example of patience, endurance, and perseverance. But we say no in a thousand ways. On the thousand-and-first, more from weariness than anything else, but also with a little love, we say yes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. At least from God's point of view. But of course we must do better than that.

And as a matter of fact, the MAP and I do rather better than that. On the various feasts of our different communions, we greet each other with great affection. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
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