Equations of the Light

By Dana Gioia b. 1950 Dana Gioia
Turning the corner, we discovered it
just as the old wrought-iron lamps went on—
a quiet, tree-lined street, only one block long   
resting between the noisy avenues.

The streetlamps splashed the shadows of the leaves   
across the whitewashed brick, and each tall window
glowing through the ivy-decked facade
promised lives as perfect as the light.

Walking beneath the trees, we counted all   
the high black doors of houses bolted shut.   
And yet we could have opened any door,   
entered any room the evening offered.

Or were we deluded by the strange
equations of the light, the vagrant wind   
searching the trees, that we believed this brief   
conjunction of our separate lives was real?

It seemed that moment lingered like a ghost,   
a flicker in the air, smaller than a moth,   
a curl of smoke flaring from a match,   
haunting a world it could not touch or hear.

There should have been a greeting or a sign,   
the smile of a stranger, something beyond
the soft refusals of the summer air
and children trading secrets on the steps.

Traffic bellowed from the avenue.
Our shadows moved across the street’s long wall,   
and at the end what else could I have done   
but turn the corner back into my life?

Dana Gioia, “Equations of the Light” from The Gods of Winter. Copyright © 1991 by Dana Gioia. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: The Gods of Winter: Poems (Graywolf Press, 1991)

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Poet Dana Gioia b. 1950


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 Dana  Gioia


It seems almost a requirement for a poet to have an unconventional résumé, but Dana Gioia’s is perhaps notable for being so conventionally unpoetic. A graduate of Stanford Business School, Gioia claims to be “the only person, in history, who went to business school to be a poet.” He later rose to become a vice president at General Foods, where he marketed products such as Kool-Aid. These experiences in the corporate world, Gioia . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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