From the Archive: "Arrow," by Rita Dove

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Arrow,” by Rita Dove, appeared in MQR’s Summer 1987 issue.

*

The eminent scholar “took the bull by the horns,”
substituting urban black speech for the voice
of an illiterate cop in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae.
And we sat there.
Dana’s purple eyes deepened, Becky
twitched to her hairtips
and Janice in her red shoes
scribbled he’s an arschlock; do you want
to leave? He’s a model product of his
education, I scribbled back; we can learn from this.

So we sat through the applause
and my chest flashed hot, a void
sucking at my guts until I was all
flamed surface. I would have to speak up.
Then the scholar progressed

to his prize-winning translations of
the Italian Nobel Laureate. He explained the poet
to us: immense difficulty
with human relationships; sensitive;
women were a scrim through which he could see
heaven.
We sat through it. Quite lovely, these poems.
We could learn from them although they were saying
you women are nothing, nothing at all.

When the moment came I raised my hand,
phrased my question as I had to: sardonic,
eminently civil my condemnation
phrased in the language of fathers –
felt the room freeze behind me.
And the answer came as it had to:
humanity – celebrate our differences –
the virility of ethnicity. My students
sat there already devising

their different ways of coping:
Dana knowing it best to have
the migraine at once, get the poison out quickly
Becky holding it back for five hours        and Janice
making it to the evening reading and party afterwards

in black pants and tunic with silver mirrors
her shoes pointed and studded, wicked witch shoes:
Janice who will wear red for three days or
yellow brighter
than her hair so she can’t be
seen       at all

*

Image: Klee, Paul. “Birds Swooping Down and Arrows.” 1919. Watercolor and transferred printing ink on gesso on paper mounted on cardboard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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