Some Words on Words by Kirby Knowlton

Every time my grandmother goes to the movies, she tells me about the previews. She tells me in detail about the ones that caught her interest, how maybe she’ll go see this one or that one when it comes out, almost a promise of more previews for her to tell me about. This is what she always says: Can you believe theres still new movies coming out? It amazes her that all the ideas haven’t been thought of yet, that people are still out there creating and recreating. Among so much change and after so much time in her life, she still loves movies. Columbia-born Terrance Hayes wrote a line that I’m always coming back to. His poem “God is an American” starts simple, with the honesty of saying what you’ve been meaning to this whole time. “I still love words.” I think of this first line when my grandmother is amazed that she still has movies to see, when in reading a new poem or short story, I find traces of one I’ve read before, when I’m thinking to myself in the car or shower. I’m always thinking about this line because it’s one of the truest that I’ve read, and like my grandmother admires the people writing and creating new movies, I admire Hayes for starting with something that seems so obvious.

Hayes has been writing for a long time. Humans have been writing much longer than that. Language is all we have to explain our thoughts, our ideas, our beliefs. When everyone has to share the same building blocks, isn’t it amazing every single time something new is created? Or when something old is recreated? Because that’s all we’re doing. Creating and borrowing and rearranging and making new again. After so much has already been written, I still love words. That I can dismantle the words of another, host them in my head, the car, the shower, until I can use them as building blocks of my own.

Later in the poem, Hayes writes, “Schadenfreude may be the best way to name the covering / of adulthood, the powdered sugar on a black shirt.” I am not an adult, though I’m getting there in the way we try to remember forgotten words: desperately without success, and then in single, random moments, it’s all right there. There are days we don’t have words for. There are days we have four-letter words for. There are moments we can’t get through but to borrow joy from another person’s pain, small cruelties to hold onto like a smooth stone in your pocket. There are moments when I need someone else’s words to understand what’s happening. Yes, schadenfreude because everyone is a little bit of an asshole at their core. But also schadenfreude through words, reading about the past pain of another to benefit your present.

I’m not yet an adult, but my patience is already wearing thin. When someone says what they’ve been meaning to say, I still love words. When a stranger on the street says something kind instead of harassing, I still love words. When I read something to help guide the way, I still love words. “A word can be the boot print / in a square of fresh cement and the glaze of morning.” A word can be anything, and we owe it everything. Where would we be without them, our little building blocks to create nations, suggest movies, or reflect on what they’ve given us?

Read the full poem here:


Kirby Knowlton was a Jasper intern for the 2014-2015 year and is a rising sophomore at USC.