Olga Dugan – Three Poems


This Time, Last Year

This time, last year,
I sat down to write
venerate the crisp
orange and red-leafed sapling
spread alley-width
between row houses
across from mine—
sapling, houses, neighbored
against thunder blue
and a cloud-marbled horizon,
sun-touched gold as a line of Psalms,
dividing night’s blunt edge
and reclining day.
Last year, I sought to savor
in the best words I could find,
this beauty,
the body mends itself,
its rips, abrasions—
heart and head to follow
(even so, do nations,
hatred, jealousy, ignorance—
breeders of war, and war itself,
are things that cannot be gold,
nor staying),
you’re a soldier come home to stay
long enough for me to trust
the weight of your head resting
on my shoulder, of your steady hand
stretched out over mine
just because.

As the last of evening’s blue ribbon
fades behind this time, next year,
I’m going to sit down to write
of survival overseas,
of fleeting war, a still peace,
of hurt, healing, a shade tree
grown tall and full of green, just turning


Allegory of the Rivers

Niagara River, mighty as it is,
daily bends and bows to sun’s pull;

swirls, swells to white, rapid V’s
downstream; pulses rock piles,
coursing towards a rainbowed gorge,
centuries of falls just can’t satiate.

Cohocton, homely as its name,
waves high then low at moon’s sway;
carries her silver light on its slow
warbling back all night;

doesn’t zigzag, shaping banks
from Maryland to New York

like forceful Susquehanna;
doesn’t pay fresh-water tribute

to Atlantic Ocean; but, Chemung
can’t forgo the mud-green

flow of its warm-water body, and
Cohocton gives fish freely to flyers.

God … were I like the rivers.

Great, small, traveling world round,
 rivers mumble, but trust the wind

(whence it comes, where it goes—what
of these?); they tumble where they’re

led, winter ripple after summer tide, tree 
by tree; run off mountains, emptying gold,

onyx, lapis lazuli, bdellium at the craving
mouths of great seas—vital tributaries,

giving those emerald and indigo waters
wholeness. God … were I like the rivers.



For Eliza

evening—blackened trees
lean into sapphire sky,
listening for you;

last road bump, you look
up, stars light heaven’s window—
a bed lamp lights mine;

fading night follows
as you lay out my school clothes,
we hear bird song—dawn.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Beauty, like poetry, is the whisper of gold through trees; buildings dipped in golden-orange, burnt sienna, and facing west; the underwater blue of after-day air, and the physics of light God has lent to us in order to describe it. Beauty lies in the integrity of the poor, in the sustaining conversation of a wounded healer. And what of kindness from family who were once strangers? The bittersweet final day of a college semester, or the first glint of surprise and discovery in a home-schooler’s eyes? First-Sunday family dinner, open-house on Friday evenings for friends, family puzzle challenges, Mom and me—reading poetry or discussing hope, friendships with my sisters—our compatible voices in song; beauty, simply and complexly, all. Beauty is not the absence of ugliness, and is the opposite of flawlessness. Beauty, in a word, is—like grace.


Olga Dugan is a Cave Canem poet, literary critic, and playwright from Philadelphia, PA. Her award-winning poems appear in literary journals and collections including Kweli, The Southern Quarterly, The Cave Canem Anthology: XIII, Pirene’s Fountain, and Tipton Poetry Journal. Holding a Ph.D. in Literary History from the University of Rochester, Olga is a Lindback Professor of English at Community College of Philadelphia.