Winner of the Dr. Sherwin W. Howard Poetry Award
Robert Dana was born in Boston in 1929. Living in Iowa for many years, he recently retired as Poet-in-Residence at Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa. The author of ten books of poetry including Starting Out for the Difficult World (Harper & Row, 1987), Hello, Stranger: Beach Poems (Anhinga Press, 1996), and Summer (Anhinga Press, 2000), he has served as distinguished visiting poet at five universities and was awarded National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellowships in poetry in 1985 and 1993. Mr. Dana's work won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award for poetry in 1989. In September of 2004, Dana was named Poet Laureate of Iowa. Read a conversation with Robert Dana by Guy Lebeda published in this issue of Weber Studies. Other work by Robert Dana previously published in Weber Studies can be seen at: Vol. 15.2.
My cat ate a wren this morning, one of a pair.
He seemed just to take it from the air.
Now her mate is cleaning out their nest,
From some sense that starting over's best,
Or from grief, or rage.
Is he bitter,
There among her fine, disordered litter?
I hear a puzzled query in his song,
About where she's gone, and for how long.
One By One
The afternoons go by, one by one.
My old friend, who shone like a tropic sun
Amid the poets of our day, too soon
Grown wan and thin as the late May moon,
His low, scouring, gritty laughter gone—
Does he hear it flicker up as night comes on?
The desert pigeons dance on the grass,
And in the time it takes one cloud to pass
Beneath the dry, immaculate blue,
Nothing thinks of me or you.
Blessed is the beach, survivor of tides.
And blessed the litter of crown conchs and pen shells, the dead blue crab
in all its electric raiment.
Blessed the nunneries of skimmers,
scuttering and rising, wheeling and falling and settling, ruffling
their red and black-and-white habits.
And blessed be the pacemakers and the peacemakers,
the slow striders, the arthritic joggers, scarred and bent under their histories,
for they're here at last by the sunlit sea.
Blessed Peoria and Manhattan, Ottawa and Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
And blessed their children.
And blessed the lovers for they shall have one perfect day.
Blessed be the dolphin out beyond the furthest buoy,
slaughtering the bright leapers,
for they shall have full bellies.
Blessed, too, the cormorant and the osprey and the pelican
for they are the cherubim and seraphim and archangel.
And blessed be the gull, open throated, screeching, scolding me to my face,
for he shall have his own place returned to him.
And the glossy lip of the long wave shall have the last kiss.
The Other Side of the River
Two operas. One for each head.
The first, dark and sad.
The other, a bluster of light.
Nature passing through us all. Wind through a screen door.
The other side of the river,
my old friend,
mind that moved words as surely as a surgeon his knife,
sinks daily deeper into dementia.
This afternoon, rereading his poems,
I see how nothing blatant troubles them—
no mother-murderers of their children,
no stink of sweat,
no mill hands swilling down shooters at the end of the day,
no dead mule in the cane rows.
Money, that subtext of palm trees and dust.
Most distant of stars at the moon's eclipse.
troubles enough to order a life.
A world unsatisfactory.
Made beautiful, occasionally,
by a blues tune, the memory of a girl's white breast,
wild asterisks of sunlight on the water,
an aunt, an uncle, an old house on a dirt road.
And now, he's going down hard.
A chilly, grey morning.
Cottonwood seed sailing down like snow,
whitening the lawn, gathering into little drifts along the drive.
Then the 8 o'clock tumble up the sidewalk—
of first grade boys barely as big as their book bags,
past our maple, past the lilacs,
loud for their bus.
Is there, among them, a Spinoza? Mickey Mantle?
Pollen, dried to yellow mud
and crusted at the edges of deck planks and patio tables.
from the high wind wild in the oaks, hickories, cherries.
No answer from the large, black eyes
of the barred owls down the creek.
Cold night filling up the ravine.