“I have been a stranger in a strange land”

By Rita Dove b. 1952 Rita Dove

Life's spell is so exquisite, everything conspires to break it.
Emily Dickinson

It wasn't bliss. What was bliss   
but the ordinary life? She'd spend hours   
in patter, moving through whole days   
touching, sniffing, tasting . . . exquisite   
housekeeping in a charmed world.   
And yet there was always   

more of the same, all that happiness,   
the aimless Being There.   
So she wandered for a while, bush to arbor,   
lingered to look through a pond's restive mirror.   
He was off cataloging the universe, probably,   
pretending he could organize   
what was clearly someone else's chaos.   

That's when she found the tree,   
the dark, crabbed branches   
bearing up such speechless bounty,   
she knew without being told   
this was forbidden. It wasn't   
a question of ownership—   
who could lay claim to   
such maddening perfection?   

And there was no voice in her head,   
no whispered intelligence lurking   
in the leaves—just an ache that grew   
until she knew she'd already lost everything   
except desire, the red heft of it   
warming her outstretched palm.

Source: Poetry (October 2002).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the October 2002 issue of Poetry magazine

October 2002
 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 Religion, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Heroes & Patriotism, Faith & Doubt, Mythology & Folklore

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

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.