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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 5, 2016.
About this Poem 

“Many Jewish musicians and composers were interned at Theresienstadt, the ‘model’ concentration camp showcased by the Nazis when the Red Cross arrived for inspection: New clothes were issued, fresh produce displayed in the ‘marketplace,’ while the musicians played concerts and marched in mock parades. As soon as the inspectors left, grim reality returned—including death marches to mass extermination sites like Auschwitz. Even so, those whom Fate spared one more time continued to compose and perform for their fellow inmates; they even staged operas from memory. How does one retain a human yearning in the midst of such horror?”
—Rita Dove

Transit

If music be the food of love, play on. 

This is the house that music built:
each note a fingertip’s purchase,
rung upon rung laddering

across the unspeakable world. 
As for those other shrill facades,
rigged-for-a-day porticos

composed to soothe regiments
of eyes, guilt-reddened,
lining the parade route

(horn flash, woodwind wail) . . .
well, let them cheer. 
I won’t speak judgment on

the black water passing for coffee,
white water for soup.
We supped instead each night

on Chopin—hummed our grief-
soaked lullabies to the rapture
rippling through. Let it be said

while in the midst of horror
we fed on beauty—and that,
my love, is what sustained us.

[Alice Herz-Sommer, survivor of the Theresienstadt ghetto / concentration camp]

 

Copyright © 2016 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Rita Dove

Rita Dove

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Rita Dove served as the US Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995 and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2005 to 2011.

by this poet

poem
I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their
poem

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have 
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I

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poem

 

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