Delivering a public speech is unlike any other experience in life. I first addressed a crowd of people, albeit a small group, maybe 30 or so, when I was only seven years old. The only thing I vividly remember about that year of my life was the way I felt while standing on a chair so I could see over the podium, the way I felt when I saw my father and mother in the front row and the other faces, some kind, others skeptical, like assorted emoticons dotting the twin rows of wooden pews. (There were no emoticons then but there are now, and the description fits.)
I remember the way I felt, the nervous excitement, that superball of energy in my core, like it was stuck there, suspended, and held by an invisible force. If I were to free it, it would bounce like crazy, everywhere, with no purpose or pattern, and I would never catch it, and neither would anyone else. But it was trapped and I had to grip it and release it in a way that I could control it, and they, the people staring at me, some empathetically and others impatiently, could catch it. They could hold it and examine it and feel the energy it kept inside itself.
It was only words and words were all I had to play catch with my audience then and now. Only words.
The following poem was written about that feeling, that inner struggle, that boiling cauldron of emotions and thoughts inside the public speaker, that calm before the storm, and then the storm itself.
A sea of faces faces me They look at me as one The pregnant silence like an anthem Silences them I should already have begun I am stone, a statue At a podium More hidden than revealed The podium a coffin, me the corpse, my lips are sealed What have I to offer them? I came here uninvited By more of them than not They came to get something, anything But what if this silent nothing Is really all I’ve got? I scour my notes For evidence of what I came to say The words are there in black and white As clear as mud and just as quiet They will not give themselves away I sense a hindrance And I’m about to freak The frog lodged in my throat Requires I swallow so I don’t croak The time has come to speak! Who am I? Why am I here? My tongue is tangled My mind is mangled They’re the headlights; I’m the deer But then it comes from nowhere The still, small voice No small act of charity Just what I need to hear, in crystal clarity And now I speak; I have no choice The silence is broken And so am I Broken and spilled out Everything revealed – my confidence, my doubt I’ve never bent so low; I’ve never reached so high They’re only words Heaved forth without fanfare There is no pomp, no circumstance No choreography, no dance Just words, just words that fill the air Only words? Yeah, right! As if there’s such a thing As if words could be called “only” anything Words are where the mighty get their might I gave my all To the crowd that night Broken silence no longer broken I had finally spoken What I believed was right
I dedicate this poem to my dearest friend Keith Day, pastor of Chapel Creek Church in Fort Worth, Texas, whose pregnant pause before a powerful sermon inspired it. Keith has always inspired me in one way or another. A better friend I could not imagine.
Word Warrior is coming, April 4th, 2023
The poem in this post is one of more than 60 included in my first book of poetry, which is scheduled for release on April 4, 2023. Some of the poems come with stories, notes, context, explanations, or scriptural references. Some just speak for themselves and leave the reader to imagine the context or inspiration for them.
The book will be available in hardcover, paperback, and as an ebook.