She liked mornings the best—Thomas gone
to look for work, her coffee flushed with milk,
outside autumn trees blowsy and dripping.
Past the seventh month she couldn’t see her feet
so she floated from room to room, houseshoes flapping,
navigating corners in wonder. When she leaned
against a doorjamb to yawn, she disappeared entirely.
Last week they had taken a bus at dawn
to the new airdock. The hangar slid open in segments
and the zeppelin nosed forward in its silver envelope.
The men walked it out gingerly, like a poodle,
then tied it to a mast and went back inside.
Beulah felt just that large and placid, a lake;
she glistened from cocoa butter smoothed in
when Thomas returned every evening nearly
in tears. He’d lean an ear on her belly
and say: Little fellow’s really talking,
though to her it was more the pok-pok-pok
of a fingernail tapping a thick cream lampshade.
Sometimes during the night she woke and found him
asleep there and the child sleeping, too.
The coffee was good but too little. Outside
everything shivered in tinfoil—only the clover
between the cobblestones hung stubbornly on,
green as an afterthought….
Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received many literary and academic honors, including the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the NAACP Great American Artist Award, the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, and the National Humanities Medal. In 2006 she received the coveted Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan); in 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia’s Lifetime Achievement Award; and in June 2009 she received the Primo Capri Prize for her widely praised book Sonata Mulattica. Dove edited The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2011). Her most recent book, Collected Poems 1974–2004, was released by W. W. Norton in May 2016. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia. (updated 10/2018)
“A Chorus of Voices: A Conversation with Rita Dove” by Steven Ratiner appeared in AGNI 54.
Read Chapman Hood Frazier’s interview with Rita Dove.