Monday, 17 June 2024

American Life in Poetry: Fieldwork

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

There is a posture that poets sometimes take, that of the prophet speaking predictions into the world, or simply proclaiming what is happening in the moment.

More often than not, the role is reluctantly embraced, for who wants to speak of calamity in the face of calamity?

Joan Naviyuk Kane’s poem “Fieldwork” assumes a knowing that carries the authority of ancestral memory. It becomes urgent in this calamitous moment, a moment of drought and heat that is familiar to us these days.

If there is hope, it lies in the expectation of movement: “as we move, / moon into moon.” The reluctant prophetess, too, wants to survive.

Fieldwork
By Joan Naviyuk Kane

Another day of heat-
strangers continue to wobble
across the horizon, bringing drought
when instead we should have deluge.

I steep snow-lichen in water I
drew from a lake
which has since gone dry.

At sea few understood me,
as though I induced a sickness
that deafened, then healed.

As before, I predict lies,
to be pushed from the boat
time and time again.

Nevertheless, I expect
to get by while their widowers·
seek refuge with their provident

families; perhaps a storm will pile fish
at their doors when the red tide rises,
perhaps they will not follow as we move,

moon into moon, under another sky.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Joan Naviyuk Kane, “Fieldwork” from Dark Traffic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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