Canary

By Rita Dove b. 1952 Rita Dove

for Michael S. Harper

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,   
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege   
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

Rita Dove, “Canary” from Grace Notes. Copyright © 1989 by Rita Dove. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Grace Notes (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 Music, Love, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

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 Music, Love, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

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.