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The Other by Robert Dana

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Approaching eighty, Robert Dana, in The Other, seems younger and more vigorous than ever. There are laments here, certainly, like the touching poem about his friend and fellow writer Donald Justice. "The book is closing on my generation," he writes about his childhood hometown, but he then goes on -- with etching clarity -- to make the lost eras come alive. He takes us with him "under the red and gold of Woolworth's Five and Dime," and brings back other times so that yesterday, even though lost, becomes today again.

But The Other is more than a book of recollections. This is a book about the edgy beauty of our world right now. Its subject is the world's "terrible unfamiliarity" and one more instance of Dana's life-long quest for a language accurate enough to reckon the days we live in. The poems are, by turns, dark with the politics and violence of our era or joyous with the delights he finds in his rose garden and on his beloved beaches.

These aren't poems about things so much as they are poems that embody the "whatness" of the things themselves. Dana wishes, near the end of "Everything in Its Own Green Time," that his books breathe. Certainly that's the great pleasure for the reader of The Other: that we catch him in his poems -- the ageless soul in a bittersweet world.

-- R.M. Ryan

 

Elegy for a Hometown

             I’m done now with the dark houses of the East.
     My hometown.

          The book is closing on my generation.

*

Skinner satin mills
long gone to producing brass & machine gun clips 
                          & milk bottle caps
                          are now themselves long gone.

And the orchard of 10,000 apple trees 
               that fed our insatiable boyish hungers —
     a wilderness of stumps and weeds.

*

Even the river’s changed course,
     leaving Walpole’s cove bleached & dry, where, in winter, 
local farmers sawed thick blocks of ice,

          skidding them up a frozen ramp to waiting wagons,

horses named Belle & Sophie stamping & steaming & shaking
                          their harnesses until they rang.

*

My Polack neighbor’s dairy farm’s now a golf course,
                          tees & greens & easy fairways.

We once killed black snakes there through the long summers
          & forking up corners,
saved the sweet-smelling, windrowed hay from oncoming rain,

     chaff stinging our sweat drenched bodies like shirts of nettle.

*

So what’s to say when a whole chunk of your life 
                         comes up missing?
You say to yourself, “Well, there it is.”
                        Or. “Well, there it was. Wasn’t it?”

*

God’s his own voyeur.

*

After more than half a century,
     I walk the town with the only man who knows my name.
     
*

Soon, I’ll bury my own shadow & slip away like sunlight.

*

          Simplicity’s what I’m best at.

*

In the end,
a small box of a house by the sea.

     No electricity.     
                No running water. Dirt floored.

Prayer,
      wind & slapdash from the whereafter.

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