Edward Dorn, “Are They Dancing”

There is a sad carnival up the valley
The willows flow it seems on trellises of music
Everyone is there today, everyone I love.

There is a mad mad fiesta along the river
Thrilling ladies sing in my ear, where
Are your friends, lost? They were to come

And banjoes were to accompany us all
And our feet were to go continually
The sound of laughter was to flow over the water

What was to have been, is something else
I am afraid. Only a letter from New Mexico
And another from a mountain by Pocatello.

I wonder, what instruments are playing
And whose eyes are straying over the mountain
Over the desert

And are they dancing: or gazing at the earth.

From Way More West, a posthumous collection reviewed today in the New York Times by August Kleinzahler, who observes: “Throughout his career, he was the least endearing, domesticated or predictable of poets, always determined to go his own way, no matter what anyone thought. And if he hadn’t been that way, American poetry would be a lot less vital and interesting.” (Really, though, that’s the sort of thing one would say about any poet if they’re any good, isn’t it? It hardly seems like much of a critical insight, which is surprising because Kleinzahler’s usually much sharper.)

You might listen to Dorn reading from his work.

22 April 2007 | poetry |

Natasha Trethewey, “Theories of Time and Space

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

From Native Guard, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Hear Tretheway read this poem in a recording of a March 2007 event at the AWP writers’ conference.

19 April 2007 | poetry |

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