Begin with A for agony. 

True, other ages have had their pains – torture,

slavery, Holocaust, hunger, war, but this we feel deep

in our pockets. Behest – that’s like gifting. At the behest

of CEOs and bankers, masks and guns, we forget

the plea for simple words, ascend

the ladder from clear nature to leaky vessels parked

in virtual garages that do not keep us warm

at night, our language swelling like something trying for release

from pressure. Destiny

is a good one – an old term echoing

with new meaning, no more sense of design fulfilled, but now

a revelation of plundered grace, horizon scanned

for totem signs, no chance

that the great auk or saber-toothed cat will come back

to add their splendid paces to the stuttering cadence

of this rattletrap planet. Crystalline – how rivers flow

when humans stand at a halt, brought to heel

for a moment by their own exhaust, filter to the 

blue-green daub of waves on canvases, little birds, iridescence 

of a dragonfly’s wings, timing of a seedling’s

emergence from the dirt. So many 

of the repurposed syllables are forgettable,

where meaning has leached out — Surge. Thrive.

Venture. Prevail. Prevail, the ultimate hollow win, all of them

corporate cartoons, soggy cartons into which

our mouths have stumbled, cardboard vaults 

for our fortunes. And the last rasp of one that means

the same as always: Fool.


Gayle Reaves-King is a poet, editor, educator and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She currently edits The Texas Monitor, an online government-watchdog publication.

Her chapbook Spectral Analysis was published by the Dallas Poets Community, and her poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies.

In four decades as a journalist, Reaves-King has reported from all over the world, for papers ranging from Fort Worth Weekly to the Washington Post and for magazines such the Texas Observer, D, and American Way. For the last several years she has edited The Best American Newspaper Narratives anthologies, published by UNT Press. She lives in Fort Worth.