When “Twin Cities” by our own Carol Muske-Dukes appeared in the July 6 issue of The New Yorker, no one was surprised.  Carol’s stature as a poet has long been established and her appointment last December as poet laureate of California only served to make concrete what she has always demonstrated:  her leadership, her activism as a poet-citizen (at the bottom, see her read from her book Channeling Mark Twain) .  Of course her poem would appear in the Pantheon that this weekly literary tastemaker represents.

Still, there is something about seeing a poem’s title in that signature Rea Irvin typeface, something about appearing in the magazine that routinely anoints future Nobels and laureates of all states and nations, that causes us to pause and take notice.  This was a moment for a mature women poet, and therefore one for all of us.  It came with a transcendent poem—a reflection and a dissection of courage, loss and memory and what happens to loyalty as the river moves on.

Twin Cities

It was the river that made them two—
The mills on one side,
The cathedral on the other.

We watched its swift currents:
If we stared long enough, maybe
It would stop cold and let us

Skate across to the other side.
It never froze in place—though
I once knew a kid, a wild funny

Girl who built a raft from branches
(Which promptly sank a few feet out
From the elbow bend off Dayton’s Bluff),

Who made it seem easy to believe.
We’d tried to break into Carver’s Cave,
Where bootleggers hid their hot stash

Years after the Dakota drew their snakes
And bears on the rock walls and canoed
Inside the caverns. We knew there were

Other openings in the cliffs, mirroring
Those same rock faces on the other shore—
And below them the caves, the subterranean

Pathways underlying the talk and commerce,
The big shot churches, undermining the false
Maidenliness of the convent school from which

My friend was eventually expelled for being
Too smart and standing up for her own smartness.
Too late, I salute you, Katy McNally. I think

That the river returned then to two-sidedness—
An overhung history of bottle-flash and hopelessness.
I see you still—laughing as the lashed sticks

Sank beneath you, laughing as you did
That morning when the river lifted
Its spring shoulders, shrugging off

The winter ice, that thin brittle mirage,
Making you believe
We were all in this together.

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