Words Are the Sum

By Richard Kenney b. 1948 Richard Kenney

As so-called quarks, so atoms before and through
And after molecules, which too
Constitute us awhile, pluming

Through our slowly changing shapes
Like beachscapes
Through a duneless sandglass, say

(I said, once) — all these
So utterly forgetful, wiped clean
As numbers with each new use, lint-free.

How not so words, which pass our minds
And mouths and ears from hind-
Most elsewhere, on their way to elsewhere — why

Words are the sum of their histories: rose
And roke and no and blanketing snow.


So much less LEGO-like, click-
Click together than like slick

Colonial hydrozoans tossed
Together in the copper pots
Of   predication — all cross-

Shock and shimmery tangle —
How can
Anyone calculate semantic

Sets so dervishly complex?
How can we not expect not less but hellish
Much more than to mean what we say? Then guess:

How can we better but
Hope to become in sum what
We say when we say again love?

NOTES: Read the Q&A with Richard Kenney about this poem

Source: Poetry (December 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2012
 Richard  Kenney


Poet Richard Kenney was born in 1948 in Glens Falls, New York and earned a BA from Dartmouth College. His first collection of poetry, The Evolution of the Flightless Bird (1984), received the Yale Younger Poets Prize. The book’s formal ambitiousness and technical facility, including an extended sonnet sequence, presaged Kenney’s future work, which has won accolades for its deft use of traditional forms and themes as well as its . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poems by Richard Kenney

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Series/Sequence

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.