Freedom and Other Poems

Freedom and Other Poems
Four poems by the author of 21 books of poetry and numerous other books of fiction, criticism, and essays. Dawes recently won the prestigious 2019 Windham/Campbell Award for Poetry


One envies the broken man, the one
whose secrets have exploded around
him, who, drunk, is freed of all expectations.
We are a fragile set, we who carry
the promise of love in us, the promise
never to wound those we plant
our lives beside. We break easily,
and so build a scaffolding of lies
to sustain us. See how easily
a poem carries the untold thing
in metaphor — this is the art
of protection. But here comes 
the man, hunched over and drunk,
with his army coat and rakish 
hat, the confetti of the last
put all over him. He has lost 
all his friends, and his face
carries the wide open relief
of one who has ended the weight
of expectation. I call it freedom.
I envy the unchained man. 
He deserves a long, potent drink. 

The Palm Reader’s Story 

Wood is a conductor of spirits – 
even the dead wood carries the remembrance 
of electrodes in tiny microcosmic 
balls of water and spirits know
to dance through the memory in the
wood to enter the living and open.
So you spread your worn leather
mat on the slats of wood, the 
boardwalk by the river. After,
you spread the deep green canvas,
your poncho that was your bivouac 
down in the bogs – your secret 
messages slashed in indelible 
Indian ink on the inner thigh,
the tracing of the pattern of light
from the searchlight over the border.
The trunk with its slouching center
is the size of a teenaged boy’s 
coffin, it has the authority 
of knowing the muggy holds 
of ships that have entered the
graven air of familiar ghosts
that speak in the languages
of the world. And here is where
you set up shop. You say
to strangers, “Come, sit here, and look
at the trees. Give your hands and
I will read your dreams.” It is not
unusual for you to weep, and bow
to shudder with orgasmic tremors
norfor women to stand suddenly and say
“Now I know!” then kiss you full
on the lips, before walking away.
Sometimes you find damp bank
notes inside the trunk. Sometimes. 

Peace Time

After the amnesty the bureau of monuments
takes inventory. The lions still watch over
the boulevards. They were silent during 
the invasion, but kept their dignity. 

All art adapts to the politics of our world.

No one can say who is missing from the plinth.

This is a travesty. Some say it was an
angel. This makes no sense. Still a man
cleans the monument each day. Dignity. 


After the concert, the sky filled, heavy
with cloud. You looked up and said 
it was a day of low sorrow like
this when the sky filled with the 
dull grey groan of squadron after
squadron of aeroplanes, lumbering
across the sky, not a display
of grand authority, but as a kind
of plague, the way the world
changes when the locusts filled
the sky — and, you whispered,
it felt like the reward for my
sins, as if I had dared God
to show me his wrath after
bearing false witness, and there
in the sky was his answer.
The park has emptied itself
of all the dark-coated masses,
we who sat there to hear the
“Requiem” fill the trees and 
then enter the sky. It is raining 
now. You did not want to leave
until the world had left. We 
are alone here, my love. Open
the umbrella and draw close;
you are forgiven, we are all forgiven.

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