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Excerpt: 'Sonata Mulattica'

by Rita Dove
May 29, 2009

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Rita Dove


February 29, 1780. Peasants in the field, digging for
the last of the frostbitten potato crop. No angel appears.

Snow's a gentle pillager: It sucks
where we have no more rags to bind,
seeks out our furthest tips to freeze
in reprimand. From the East
an icy flourish reminds us
how meager an essence we harbor:
mere blood and burbling humors
trussed into a package of skin.
Each booted stride
a cracking:
trudge, slip, o woeful
processional. This is
our lot. Our staged creation:
whiteness billowing, fuzzed silence sliced
by a woman-one scream
only, quickly held back.
She is one of us, a peasant
mindful of the body's purpose:
Be strong, survive.
Bundled in the season's last rags,
all tufts and breath-sodden fringes,
we permit a brief yearning
to burn deep in the gut
on this day of no accounting,
no different than yesterday or tomorrow,
and then the answering cry, all but muted
by the western wind . . . tiny, enraged.

That's it, then. Another soul
quickened to misery,
dark as our shadows lurching
over the snow-riddled furrows.
Another spirit cursed to walk
this glacial crust, another body
some day to bury.

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