As promised, here is another poem from “Twin Cities,” the incomparable collection and fireworks display from Carol Muske-Dukes. Poet laureate of California, Carol is also co-editor of Crossing State Lines, a renga that is actually a laser into the patriot place in the hearts of 54 American poets. She works in virtually every genre, including razor sharp political essays because she is a woman of conscience who knows art is the perfect embodiment of that enigmatic word “cleave.” In her hands, writing allows us both to cling to Truth (the one with the capital “T”) and to cut through all the other stuff that so fogs the view of It.
This generous artist has lent her voice to our mission many times before, always with grace and intelligence. Today is no exception and one look at the poem that follows will show you she has maintained her standards for the exceptional.
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 these 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 drift.
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
Reprinted with permission from the author. From Twin Cities. Penguin Books
(Penguin Poets), Copyright Carol Muske-Dukes 2011, New York, NY.