[from Maurice Manning's The Common Man, Houghton Mifflin, 2010]
That Durned Ole Via Negativa
You ever say a word like naw,
that n, a, double-u instead
of no? Let's try it, naw. You feel
your jaw drop farther down and hang;
you say it slower, don't you, as if
a naw weighs twice as much as no.
It's also sadder sounding than
a no. Yore Daddy still alive?
a friend you haven't seen might ask.
If you say naw, it means you still
cannot get over him. But would
you want to? Naw. Did you hear it then,
that affirmation? You can't say naw
without the trickle of a smile.
The eggheads call that wistful, now --
O sad desire, O boiling pot
of melancholy pitch! Down in
that gloomy sadness always is
a hope. You gettin' any strange?
That always gets a naw, and a laugh.
I've had that asked of me. It's sad
to contemplate sometimes, but kind
of funny, too. It makes me think
of git and who came up with that,
and the last burdened letter hitched
to naw, that team of yous and yoked
together -- the you you are for now
and the you you might become if you
said yeah, to feel the sag of doubt
when only one of you is left
to pull the load of living. My,
but we're in lonesome country now.
I wonder if we ever leave it?
We could say yeah, but wouldn't we
be wiser if we stuck it out
with naw, and know the weight of what
we know is dragging right behind us,
the squeak and buck of gear along
with us, O mournful plea, O song
we know, by heart, by God, by heart.