Poem of the Week | May 03, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Then a Wild Dedication” by Mira Rosenthal!

Mira Rosenthal is a past fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and Stanford University’s Stegner Fellowship, and her work appears regularly in such journals as Poetry, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, Guernica, Harvard Review, New England Review, A Public Space, and Oxford American. Her first book of poems, The Local World, received the Wick Poetry Prize. Her translation of Polish poet Tomasz Różycki’s Colonies won the Northern California Book Award and was shortlisted for numerous other prizes, including the International Griffin Poetry Prize. Her honors include a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, and residencies at Hedgebrook and The MacDowell Colony. She teaches creative writing and literature at Cal Poly.


Then a Wild Dedication

for the tendril, little brittle stump of once

for you born out of me, for the one I cannot shield or keep

for all the ways my going forth will fail you

here’s a map in your hand here’s a fraction of space given grain

for the cornstalk stubble in a field, disintegrating

for all those desiccated stumps & women’s stories pinned to line, hung out to dry,
            to whiten

for all of us inside, detained in the meantime, in fleeting changes of expression

& you, trailing me like a shadow

track carefully dear loved one taste the spray of salt on your lips from the waves

for internal rhythm on edge or at sea

for the step of my step

for the gauge of my gesture you imitate without knowing, wading with me into
            uncut grass

here’s a bluff to give scale here’s a view over sage brush in every direction

for what will come to pass, for your sake

for the moment you outpace me, chasing along a new-cut path through the little
            brittle stumps of once

for the parting of ways

chart accurately dear loved one with your chest full of breakers held strong in
            your frame

for the inhale moving through you, humming change


Author’s Note

I started this poem while sitting on a bench in a field at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Redwing, Minnesota. The Center—an old estate built by the inventor of puffed rice—was originally in the middle of nowhere. But now a four-lane highway runs right by its gates, so the sound of passing trucks and cars reaches every last corner on the property. The sound brought to mind the history of our interstate system, which was built as a defense route, and how it dispossessed thousands of people of their land, destroying neighborhoods and communities. It also brought to mind the ocean waves and my two young daughters, running along the beach. I was missing them. The poem comes from a series set in the California chaparral region, a landscape affected by climate change and the ecological disaster of drought—only in this case the drought is also internal, reflecting the silences that society maintains around the experiences of women. The poem owes some of its structure of thought to Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Initiation Song from the Finder’s Lodge,” and the title is a misquoting of Shakespeare’s “A cause more promising / Than a wild dedication of yourselves / To unpath’d waters, undream’d shores, most certain / To miseries enough.”