“Teach Us to Number Our Days”

By Rita Dove b. 1952 Rita Dove
In the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor   
is more elaborate than the last.
The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,   
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet.

Low-rent balconies stacked to the sky.   
A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon   
crossed by TV antennae, dreams

he has swallowed a blue bean.
It takes root in his gut, sprouts
and twines upward, the vines curling   
around the sockets and locking them shut.

And this sky, knotting like a dark tie?
The patroller, disinterested, holds all the beans.

August. The mums nod past, each a prickly heart on a sleeve.

Rita Dove, “ ‘Teach Us to Number Our Days’ ” from Yellow House on the Corner (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989). Copyright © 1989 by Rita Dove. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Yellow House on the Corner (1989)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Rita Dove b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Trees & Flowers, Money & Economics, Nature, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Rita  Dove

Biography

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952, the daughter of one of the first black chemists in the tire industry. Dove was encouraged to read widely by her parents, and excelled in school. She was named a Presidential Scholar, one of the top one hundred high-school graduates in the country and attended Miami University in Ohio as a National Merit Scholar. After graduating, Dove received a Fulbright to study at the University of . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Trees & Flowers, Money & Economics, Nature, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.