Three Aubades (Aubade: The Constitutional, Aubade: West, Aubade: East)

In 1516, the Most Serene Republic of Venice confined its Jews to the site of a former foundry. The Venetian word for foundry was geto. 


Aubade: The Constitutional

Leone da Modena. The Veneto.

A day like this I should count

among the miracles of living—breath,


a heart that beats, that aches and sings;

even the ecstasy of thirst


or sweat peppering my brow,

fanned by the mercurial breezes


crisscrossing this reserve,

our allotment on earth . . .


why, then, am I unhappy


when all around me

the human pageant whirrs?


This much I can do for

my lost, my sweet and damaged tribe:


each morning I pace the tattered verge

of their Most Serene Republic,


patrol each canal’s fogged sibilance,

chanting a day unlike all others


and then I count it, and the next,

God willing, and each day thereafter


as a path free of echoes,

a promise with no perimeters,


my foot soles polishing the scarred stones.



Aubade: West  

Ferguson, Missouri

Everywhere absence mocks me:

Jimmy, jettisoned like rotten fruit.

Franklin blown away.

Heat aplenty of all kinds,

especially when August blows its horn—

cops and summer and no ventilation

make piss-poor running buddies.

A day just like all the others,

me out here on the streets

skittery as a bug crossing a skillet,

no lungs big enough to strain

this scalded broth into brain and tissues,

plump my arteries, my soul . . .


Voice in my ear hissing Go ahead, leave. 

Look around. No gates, no barbed wire.

As if I could walk on water.

As if water ever told one good truth,

lisping her lullabies as she rocks

another cracked cradle of Somalis

until it splits and she can pour

her final solution right through.

Me watching from the other side of the world,

high and dry on this street

running straight as a line of smack,

sun shouting down its glory:


No one’s stopping you.

What are you waiting for?



Aubade: East

Harlem, a.m.

Today’s the day, I can taste it.

Got my gray sweats pouting in a breeze

so soft, I feel like I’m still wrapped for sleeping

as I head uptown in my undercover power-suit,

bitch sunlight fingering the spaced-out tenements.


This morning there ain’t nothing I can’t do.

This is my territory, I know all of it—

ten long blocks flanked by mighty water.

Walking any Avenue is like riding

a cosmic surfboard on the biggest wave


of the goddam century, the East River

twerking her bedazzled behind

while sky spills coin like a luck-crazed

Vegas granny flush at the slots. Today


I’m gonna make out like a bandit myself:

hook up with my buds to drop

a few shots on the courts, ogle the ladies,

then play the rest of the day


as it comes                see where it goes

feeling good

feeling good

somewhere over the Hudson

the sun                      heading home


Rita Dove, born in 1952 in Akron, Ohio, earned degrees from Miami University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her record of achievement is unprecedented. When in February 2011 she received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, she became the first person to have received all three of the country’s highest arts distinctions—the others being the Humanities Medal and a term of service as Poet Laureate (2003–5). She has been a frequent guest of Bill Moyers’ PBS series. In 1987, she received the Pulitzer Prize for her third collection of poems, Thomas and Beulah, which is loosely based on her maternal grandparents’ lives. She also has nine other volumes of poetry: Collected Poems 1974–2004 (2016), Sonata Mulattica (2009), American Smooth (2004), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), Mother Love (1995), Selected Poems (1993), Grace Notes (1989), Museum (1983), and The Yellow House on the Corner (1980). She has published a collection of essays, The Poet’s World (1995); a drama, The Darker Face of the Earth: A Verse Play in Fourteen Scenes (1994); a novel, Through the Ivory Gate (1992); and a collection of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985). She has edited two volumes, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2011) and The Best American Poetry 2000 (2000). From 2004 to 2006, Dove served as the Poet Laureate of Virginia. She holds twenty-five honorary doctorates, is a classically trained musician (viola de gamba), and has done numerous musical collaborations, including Seven for Luck, seven poems by Rita Dove with music by John Williams, and Umoja: Each One of Us Counts, music by Alvin Singleton, commissioned by the Atlanta Olympic Summer Games. Since 1989, she has taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English.