In the Land of Superstition

It’s where black cats tend to live longer

than their allotted nines, and we avoid

cracks in the sidewalk to ward off whatever

might happen in the whatever places

of our minds. And on certain Fridays

when the thirteenth comes around,

we’re comforted by large hotels sharing

our concerns, allowing us to skip entire floors.

It’s a safe place for those who toss salt

over their shoulders, or for that man

we’ve seen bending down to scold flowers

for no apparent reason. When we’re like him,

or in love, on the verge of being lost, which of us

doesn’t need some kind of magic to help

navigate and go on? We dig up a footprint 

of hers and put in a flowerpot. Then plant

a marigold, the flower that takes some time

to fade. Sometimes it works. If not, we find

out fast if all along she was planning to leave.

The superstitious can’t help but play

the roulette of this or that, yet understand

those who decry the miraculous. We just

don’t desire their world. We build bonfires

and dance beyond midnight to usher in

the much-needed rain. If nothing happens,

we keep dancing in the fiery dark,

all the while inventing great stories

with heroes and heroines. In this way

we create the world we want to live in:

wild, luminescent, a kind of fiesta 

with secret rules and a guest list made up

of people who’ d yet to earn their names.


Stephen Dunn is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose. His Degrees of Fidelity: Essays on Poetry and the Latitudes of the Personal,  is due out from Tiger Bark Press in October 2018, and a new collection of poems, Pagan Virtues, is scheduled to be published by W. W. Norton in 2019. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Different Hours, and he has had fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. Dunn lives in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd.