Rita Dove’s Incantation

A few years ago, I heard Rita Dove read at the Berkeley Lunch Poems, when it was still a live event. I waited in line to have her sign her most recent book. The line was long and in front of me was an older man with two shopping bags full of books. Rita cheerfully signed every one. I think if had  been me, I would have said something like, Sorry, there are so many people waiting, pick your favorite three. That’s probably one of the many reasons why I’ll never be in that position. Luckily, Rita Dove graciously carried the day.

Here is a recent poem of hers that expresses another side of her. I especially love how it ends.

Incantation of the First Order

Listen, no one signed up for this lullaby.
No bleeped sheep or rosebuds or twitching stars
will diminish the fear or save you from waking

into the same day you dreamed of leaving—
mockingbird on back order, morning bells
stuck on snooze—so you might as well  

get up and at it, pestilence be damned.
Peril and risk having become relative,
I’ll try to couch this in positive terms:

Never! is the word of last resorts, 
Always! the fanatic’s rallying cry.
To those inclined toward kindness, I say

Come out of your houses drumming. All others,
beware: I have discarded my smile but not my teeth.

Rita Dove

“Incantation of the First Order,” originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 18, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets. © 2021. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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