737: A Small Moment

737: A Small Moment

737: A Small Moment


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

What is the job of a poet? I think about this a lot. Are we beholden to some greater truth, some moral high ground? Or is our job simply to write about what is going on in our lives, in our little squares of this earth? We aren’t prophets, certainly. And most poets aren’t any wiser than any other human being. What we do, really, is simply look and listen and activate all the senses we have access to and see if something happens. A lot of what we do is wait.

Someone asked me recently to see if they could follow along with a “day in the life” of me, me as a poet. I started to laugh because what does that mean? It’s not something that anyone would be interested in watching. It’s certainly not full of adventures or dramatic events. A day in the life of a poet, looks, very often, like someone frowning at the computer screen or their journal. The poet Mark Strand once wrote, “I move to keep things whole.” Well, I frown to keep words coming.

So perhaps the job of a poet is as slippery as the job of, say, a magpie. We look around for something shining and when we see it, we grab it. And if we don’t see the shining thing, we just go about our day, doing the laundry, paying our bills, making sure we can feed ourselves for another day. Our jobs are not obvious at all.

But we do name things, point things out. We are the ones to point to something and say what it is, what it means, how it feels. Poets don’t often have answers, but we do have language and language keeps us going. We spend all day looking for the right word, or recording the perfect localized idiom that names a way of being in the world. Sometimes we are quiet and observing, but very often, we’re the one asking what something is called. What’s the name of that tree? What’s the name of that bird? We ask over and over until we are satisfied, if only for a moment.

Today’s poem celebrates the joy of being the one who asks what something is called, the one who speaks for the crowd.

A Small Moment
by Cornelius Eady

I walk into the bakery next door
To my apartment. They are about
To pull some sort of toast with cheese
From the oven. When I ask:
What’s that smell? I am being
A poet, I am asking

What everyone else in the shop
Wanted to ask, but somehow couldn’t;
I am speaking on behalf of two other
Customers who wanted to buy the
Name of it. I ask the woman
Behind the counter for a percentage
Of her sale. Am I flirting?
Am I happy because the days 
Are longer? Here’s what

She does: She takes her time
Choosing the slices. “I am picking
Out the good ones,” she tells me. It’s
April 14th. Spring, with five to ten
Degrees to go. Some days, I feel my duty;
Some days, I love my work.

"A Small Moment" by Cornelius Eady, from HARDHEADED copyright © 2008 Cornelius Eady. Used by permission of Penguin Random House.