Cathexis Northwest Press

© 2018 

00:00 / 01:04

All of a sudden

is a roundabout way 

of telling ourselves

we want a more sudden word

than suddenly.


But, if unexpectedly

and in the blink of an eye

and even without warning

hold the sentence back

then all at once,

in a flash,

tout à coup,

and just like that

introduce a sentence

with no more dispatch

than suddenly,

than soudainement.


We still lack

a transition so abrupt

that–poof–the sentence shows up

sentences too soon


like the comeuppance

of rolling down the corridor

toward the readied room

where the decisive surgeon,

whose name you didn’t catch,

will make his incisions.

William Aarnes has published two collections with Ninety-Six Press—Learning to Dance (1991) and Predicaments (2001)—and a third collection, Do in Dour, from Aldrich Press (2016). His work has appeared in such magazines as Poetry, FIELD, and Red Savina Review.

“Suddenly” is one of a series of poems that I have been writing for about twenty-five years, poems that I think of as entries in a wordbook. These poems come out of a blend of impulses: the kind of attention one might find in a usage handbook, a focus on how the meanings of words shift (the kind of thinking that informs Raymond Williams’ Keywords), and, if I am lucky enough to have the inspiration, a bit of narrative that suggests how a word plays into a person’s life. “Suddenly” started long ago as an entry that focused on usage (a wish for a quicker word) but my undergoing bypass surgery helped me move the poem from commentary to urgency.