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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Rita Dove


Back when the earth was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn’t had time to stick;
back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file…
the world called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a gaze.
I caught my breath and called that life,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.
I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn’t know their names?
Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.

The Sisters: Swansong,

We died one by one,
each plumper than the mirror
saw us. We exited obligingly,
rattling key chains and
cocktail jewelry, rehearsing
our ghostly encores.
Glad to be rid of pincurls
and prayers, bunions
burning between
ironed sheets – we sang
our laments, praised God
and went our way
quietly, were mourned
in satin and chrysanthemums,
whiskey and cake, old gossip
evaporating into cautionary tales.
Does it matter who went
first? Corinna or Fay,
heartache or coronary,
a reckless scalpel or
a careless life – whoever was left
kept count on the dwindling
rosary: Suzanna, Kit.
Mary. Violet. Pearl.
We all died of insignificance.


Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia and currently The New York Times Magazine’s poetry editor; she has served as U.S. poet laureate and poet laureate of Virginia. Author of numerous literary works, most recently the poetry books Sonata Mulattica and Collected Poems 1974-2004, she also edited The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Her many awards include the Pulitzer Prize, the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts, and to date 28 universities have bestowed honorary doctorates on her, among them Yale, Harvard, Duke, Emory and U. Michigan.

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