In Their Own Words

Nicholas Goodly on “Evening Prayer”

Nicholas Goodly author photo

Evening Prayer

who bestowed upon me
this habit of wanting
music from a pen this addiction
to the gentleness of vowels
what are these notes
from people’s heads
what is the point
of being the last one
to speak a beautiful language
I am a fraction
of what I could’ve been
what else can I contribute
I am outdone by children
with more to lose
a teenager instructing me
how to breathe
these kids are quick
they grab the hands
of their neighbors
pull each other
safely up for air
there is your enemy and son
your wife and brother
your prize and secret cross
golden fleece and weighted cast
heaven knows
I want this to be a poem
people reach for
how often have I told myself
I am not strong and time
keeps proving me wrong
when snow doesn’t come
when I am not enough
let me do the right thing
and make a rope of words
let it begin with me even now
there is richness beyond belief
vulnerable warrior what risk is there
we who already die in so many places
this not even the worst of them
no one line is revolutionary
no one word ever is
I am grateful for not dying yet
I inhale what is in front of me
everything is changing
young hearts any love
I can describe for you
does not suffice but you
are worth my every effort
one day you will know love like this
and write it better than I

From Black Swim (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

On "Evening Prayer"

I think I’m tapping into the good kind of jealousy among poets. Not in a sense of taking away from each other, but in recognizing the skills other poets use to connect with a reader. As poets, we all know the importance of language, how the right combination of words can change a life forever, how words can save a life or break it almost beyond repair. Language is scary in that way, and we as poets are taking a big leap to assume we are the ones capable of wielding this power. Aren’t we full of nerve, to believe we are the ones with the winning alchemic formula of letters to free us from ourselves? And then, we believe that those words may free someone else?

On the other hand, what else can we do but try? All we have is to keep returning to the page and make effort after effort to get it right. I wrote this poem in a cabin, at a retreat, alone, reading book after poetry book, watching one documentary after another, getting wrecked by one author, then the next. These poets and artists, observing the way their lyric gifts brightened the world, what audacity, to believe that I could maybe do that too?

At the same time, this poem acknowledges what magical work I’ve already done. It is important to acknowledge that although the craft and path of a poet is difficult, it is not impossible. It is worth pushing through the self-doubt, the inner-saboteur, to maybe write a poem that someone is inspired by. It is worth the pursuit, even if just to save my own life.

And I began to see it as a blessing, that there are so many other talented writers who’ve existed before me, who I can draw upon. It is a blessing, too, that I am here to be of some use to the writers coming after me. It is a miracle how much we can mean to each other at any given time, if we open ourselves up. All these things make the work worthwhile, all these lives reason to come back to the desk and a blank page, as many times as it takes.

More In Their Own Words