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David Kirby

This Magic Moment

About this Poem 

“In so many of the great two-minute pop songs, the singer becomes a completely new person by the time the song ends. That got me to thinking about how the mind can turn base metal into gold, and usually at the exact moment you need it to—if you let it, that is.”
David Kirby

This Magic Moment

David Kirby

            Poetry does make things happen. A friend says, "I wanted
to let you know that my stepfather is chattering like
            a schoolboy about a poem of yours on my Facebook page.
This may not seem like much to you, but this guy has been
            giving me a hard time since I was two. You built a bridge
between people who never understood each other before."
            How’d that happen? Magic, that’s how. I know the poem

            she means; it took me years to write it. Songwriter
Doc Pomus was crippled by polio, and he wrote once
            about this dream he had again and again: “I used to believe
in magic and flying and that one morning I would wake up
            and all the bad things were bad dreams. . . . And I would
get out of the wheelchair and walk and not with braces
            and not with crutches,” though when the light came through

            the window in the morning, there he was, encased
in steel and leather from hip to ankle, unable to move.
            Again and again he has the dream, and then one day
he writes “This Magic Moment,” where the guy meets
            the girl, and suddenly he has everything he wants. How?
Magic! Wouldn’t you love to have saved pale Keats
            with his blood-speck’d lips? And Fanny, her skin like cream,

            listening through the wall. He dies with his lungs on fire,
she mourns, marries, gives birth, and, after her husband dies,
            gives Keats’ letters to her children—she had kept them all
that time. We have them, and we have his poems. And his
            tool kit, too: look what he does in the “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Nobody bolts music and lyrics together the way Keats does,
            no one pays more attention to detail. There's a Jack Gilbert

            poem that begins with a real incident from World War II,
when the Polish cavalry rode out against the Germans
            with their swords glittering, only the Germans had tanks.
But that's not bravery, says Gilbert. Bravery is doing
            the same thing every day when you don't want to.
Not the marvelous but the familiar, over and over again.
            Do that, and the magic will come. My dad was frail

            and distracted in his last hours. My mother said he asked,
Do we have enough money? and when she said yes, he said,
            Then let's just get in the Buick and go. He was looking
at car trips, thirty-cent gas, roadside picnics, these new things
            they called motels. My brother, me, the little house
we lived in, fifty years of marriage, a long and happy life as
            a Chaucer scholar: all that was in the sunny days to come.
 

Copyright © 2014 by David Kirby. Used with permission of the author. 

Copyright © 2014 by David Kirby. Used with permission of the author. 

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

Poets in Conversation

In this collection of conversations, poets talk with one another about what inspires them most about the art form.

collection

Poetry and Place

In this collection, we examine the significance of place in contemporary American poetry. Here you'll find a range of poems, commentary, and essays that revolve around what we mean by the idea of "home" or of "homelessness" resulting from travel or displacement. Some works deal with a specific time and location, while others focus on a more socially-constructed view of place through the lenses of pop culture and identity. In the end, we hope this collection both confirms and challenges your notion of place in American poetry.

For a more thorough exploration of our theme, check out W. T. Pfefferle's anthology Poets on Place: Essays & Tales from the Road.

Anne Waldman
poem

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Langston Hughes
1994
collection

On the Poetic Line

The poetic line is one of the most emphasized elements of form, the structural division of verse that can indicate patterns in meter, rhythm, and rhyme and influence the aesthetics and emphases of the poem. Examinations and discussions of the line abound, and we hope this collection, featuring books and essays by a variety of writers, provides a context for the use of the line in the history of poetic craft. 

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Academy Chancellor Galway Kinnell (left), February 1, 1927 - October 28, 2014
collection

We the Poets

To celebrate American Archives Month in October we collaborated with the National Archives on We the Poets, a project for which we commissioned poets to write original works based on the archives’ holdings. The National Archives filmed the poets reading their poems at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. To read more about the project and to view related photographs and documents from the National Archives, visit the Prologue: Pieces of History blog.

collection

Galway Kinnell: A Tribute

Galway Kinnell, a former Academy of American Poets Chancellor and 2010 Wallace Stevens Award winner, passed away at eighty-seven years old at his home in Sheffield, Vermont, on October 28, 2014. Liz Rosenberg, writing in the Boston Globe, noted that "Kinnell is a poet of the rarest ability, the kind who comes once or twice in a generation, who can flesh out music, raise the spirits and break the heart." He will be missed.

poem

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas
1937
poem

The Past

Small light in the sky appearing
suddenly between
two pine boughs, their fine needles

now etched onto the radiant surface
and above this
high, feathery heaven—

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine,
most intense when the wind blows through it
and the sound it makes equally strange,
like the sound of the wind in a movie—

Shadows moving. The ropes
making the sound they make. What you hear now
will be the sound of the nightingale, Chordata,
the male bird courting the female—

The ropes shift. The hammock
sways in the wind, tied
firmly between two pine trees.

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine.

It is my mother’s voice you hear
or is it only the sound the trees make
when the air passes through them

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?
 

Louise Glück
2014