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Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis is the author of eleven books of poems, most recently Callings, published by Penguin in October. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Ruth Lilly Prize, he lives in Buffalo, New York.ity.

Soul and Self

The soul is certain it has whatever it needs
To live as it ought to live, but the self
Maintains a list of significant items

Before dawn, the soul pilots its schooner
Past shoals and shallows to open sea,
Exercising the virtues of courage
And steadiness in the face of gales.
But the self, awakened by bedroom sun,
Steps out on the back porch to look
For signs that spring may be reaching the yard
Earlier than it did last year.

When the fog sweeps in, the pilot soul
Is glad for the chance to prove it doesn't require
A glimpse of the sun or stars to get its bearings.
But the self reads for the twentieth time
A letter assuring it that a friend is returning
With gifts she believes the self will deserve
Some time in the future, if not today.

When the sky clears, the only cloud
In the sky of the soul, as the ship
Booms along under full sail, is the thought
Of the landlubber in the passenger's cabin,
The fretful, shivering self who persists in asking
How many days to go till landfall,
As if breasting the waves weren't life enough.

The only thorn in the side of the self
Is the thought of the hermit uncle alone in the attic,
The crank who won't descend to the yard
For the picnic under the chestnut tree.
All day long he bangs his cane on the floor,
His signal for the house to weigh anchor at last
And leave the sluggish shore behind.


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