“Like Dust” by Ian Opolski

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021: Editor’s Choice


The Blood in the Veins by Rachel Slotnick, painting of Maya Angelou with a river flowing through her and hearts

Image: “The Blood in the Veins” by Rachel Slotnick. “Like Dust” was written by Ian Opolski for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Ian Opolski


There you are. Were you lost
In the blue reaches of what could be?
It is no small thing to be one
Little person in our many-colored
Cosmos. Seedling, a high destiny
Awaits you. Now you are down
In the dust, sighing skyward for hope
Of a savior. But what is dust
But an opportunity? Wrap yourself
In it. It’s time to grow. There is no earth
That will not nourish. There are no stones
Too dry that you cannot draw water.
Make lights to rival the sky’s. How
Else will you wreath your head in blooms?
A true queen will crown herself. Worm,
Wriggle in the dark. What is the dark
Except creation’s cradle? Build wings there.
It’s time you flew. But you knew
That already. That head full of dreams
Dreams on, until all its whorls and veins
Build a heart. That’s the most important
Part. The art is in the arteries. Get
The blood flowing. Go, give that heart
Away. It never belonged to you
Anyway. This is a universe full of
Seeds, after all. It’s your turn to do
Some tending. The making of it
All cannot be done by one pair of hands.
So what do you think you’re doing,
Shaking off all that dust? You are
Meant to use it. Take these sorrowful
Threads and weave a brighter dress.
Meet each murmuring morning
With trumpets of yes, yes, yes.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2021, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Rachel Slotnick’s painting captures Maya Angelou’s spirit with beauty and creativity, and this poem does the same. It reads to me like self-talk—a motivational interior monologue in which the speaker tries to imagine the advice Maya might give in the face of difficulty. Given the current mood of the world, the uplifting message of this ekphrastic pairing is especially appreciated. Comments from the author aren’t necessary or part of the selection process, but I thought Ian’s note was worth sharing, too, so I’m including that below.”

Comment from the author, Ian Opolski: “I teach high school English to students who are mostly indifferent to literature. I usually manage to sneak a Maya Angelou poem in each year, regardless of what’s in the prescribed curriculum. She always connects, particularly when the students can watch a video of her perform. I particularly like to teach ‘Still I Rise,’ where she confronts a difficult history with joy, never losing faith in the future or in herself. She seems to have a celestial wisdom and confidence that is both enviable and aspirational. I think Rachel Slotnick’s mural captures that same feeling, with Angelou against a field of stars, flowers and hearts emerging from her being. I see Dr. Angelou here as both creator and nurturer. I hope that I have honored that same optimistic spirit in this poem.”

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