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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

late, in aqua and ermine, gardenias
scaling her left sleeve in a spasm of scent,
her gloves white, her smile chastened, purse giddy
with stars and rhinestones clipped to her brilliantined hair,
on her free arm that fine Negro,
Mr. Wonderful Smith.

It’s the day that isn’t, February

poem
She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her.  What's this,

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that's when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a
poem
Shirtsleeved afternoons
turn toward leather as the trees
blush, scatter a last

few bright, weary wisps across
the great bruised heart of the South.

The spirit cup drifts
down the pond's moon-sparked highway.
Far laughter, shadows.

Love or poison? Your turn. Drink
to the star-drenched latitudes!