In a poem of mine, I once borrowed the lines “If you can’t be free, be a mystery” from Rita Dove’s “Canary.” Using the lines, I possessed, for a moment, a rare kind of clarity. You gotta know who you are and who people imagine you to be, to really be free in this world. This new collection, “Playlist for the Apocalypse,” is a bounty of such moments. Like this one, in “Postlude,” where Dove doesn’t stop at “you prefer me invisible,” but reminds you (America, maybe) that “this is my business.” Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts
Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman
By Rita Dove
Stay by the hearth, little cricket.
You prefer me invisible, no more than
a crisp salute far away from
your silks and firewood and woolens.
Out of sight, I’m merely an annoyance,
one slim, obstinate wrinkle in night’s
deepening trance. When sleep fails,
you wish me shushed and back in my hole.
As usual, you’re not listening: Time stops
only if you stop long enough to hear it
passing. This is my business:
I’ve got ten weeks left to croon through.
What you hear is a lifetime of song.
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. His 2018 article in The New York Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to working lawyer won a National Magazine Award. Rita Dove is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate whose latest collection is “Playlist for the Apocalypse” (W.W. Norton, 2021). She is the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing in the English Department at the University of Virginia.