Summer by Robert Dana

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Another poet passing seventy might be ready to call his latest collection Winter. Not Robert Dana, who never seems younger than in this, his eighth book. Summer is about vanishing things that disclose anything but their frailty. It is "our enduring strangeness" that Dana affirms in his angular montages. About that which is off-to-the-side, no one is quite so sumptuously descriptive. Out of what others pass by as nothing, out of the "Black/ganglia of bare trees," Dana makes a "net/set to snare the first/bird that flies" to produce, again and again, like a prestidigitator, a bird that struts its stuff, "cocky as a robin on ice." Robert Dana has become our most elegant flaneur in the realm of the speculative--the walker whose strollings through the world produce a "murmurous celebratory music/for a discontinuous life." -- Edward Brunner

Dana... sings beautifully. -- Gerald Stern



I've lost my voice in the morning fog.
Fog that's grounded the osprey,
the gliding pelicans with their great
beaks and bags, and the broad cape
of their wings, and that incredible collapse
into the sea, a dive with all the grace
of an orange crate gone to flinders
in mid-air, ending reassembled
again as a bird, in a graceful float
on the rolling waters. No cormorants,
eyes blue-green as bottle glass--
bright, fierce, indifferent--standing
on the rotten pilings of the long-gone
pier, drying their sodden black wings.
Only a few shore birds--gulls,
a handful of sanderlings running
like wind-up toys. The palms are still.
The waters of the Gulf, as if the fog
weighed on them like holy oil, are still.
The breathing surf says, Shush.
And shush. And shush. But, of course,
it says nothing. Nor do the strews
of bone-white shells the newly arrived
bend to and search for the few bits
of color, the one unbroken shape,
spell out a message. Men and women,
the few morning walkers, emerge
from the fog and fade away in fog.
The high rise condos; the new hotel
in two shades of lemon sorbet,
and all the architectural beauty
of a penitentiary; the little shore
houses hung with dusky bougainvillea
and deep verandas have all vanished.
The world is just beginning, or perhaps,
ending. I don't say anything smart
to myself in the voice I've lost.
I just keep a steady pace, my hands
clammy, sticky with salt and damp.
I know where I'm going, after all.
Maybe I whistle a little something,
or hum silently to myself as we all do.
An adagio, maybe, or some Chopin
tune I learned from my first
girlfriend; she was petite and Polish,
soft voiced, and used to kiss the chill
from my lips and warm me under
her navy wool coat on those fall
nights when my hands were freezing
and my teeth chattered. Or some
other boyhood favorite. "Stardust."
"On The Sunny Side Of The Street."


At Seventy

You don't see yourself
in the morning mirror
anymore. And you tell
yourself you're disloyal,
that you have a tin ear,
and can't tell irony
from kvetch. So what?
At seventy, you no longer
expect old friends
to love you, and you're
sick of stories of the past
because they no longer
matter. Nor do
the day-long silences
that sometimes fall on
you like a cool rain.

But you can't stop there.
To get it exactly right,
you have to stand before
the window, before
the great scrim of sunlight
falling through the woods;
the green wall of leaves:
oak, hickory, feathery
hackberry, the wild cherry;
the dogberry fruiting;
darting shadows of birds;
hearing the thick rush of
wild flowers down the damp
slope; tasting the bitter
bite of black, thrice-
boiled, late-morning coffee.

Good luck's your wife's
laughter. And the yellow-
eyed, grey smoke cat,
der Meistersinger, who
keeps a clock in his belly
and knows what time it is.
And your small, muscular,
green-eyed, clouds-on-milk
cat, who seeks, each day
on the living room floor,
the exact center of the universe,
give or take an inch
or two, east or west, north
or south, curling herself
under on it, folding in
her long paws, bouldering in,
as if to mark it clearly,
hold it firmly in place.

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