“Sorrow” by Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes


In sooth, I know not why I am so sad,
It wearies me, you say it wearies you.
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff tis made of, whereof it is born
I am to learn.
—The Tempest: Act 1, Sc 1

It is low grade and so unremarkable
this sorrow—it comes like indigestion
or shortness of breath and all the
worries of these signs of weakness,
no one need know. Of course sorrow
is too much of a word—such a fat
word filled with the bitter aftertaste
of tepid coffee left on a café stool,
the pink of a woman’s lipstick on
its edge, leaves all around and a 
heavy chill over all things—sorrow
is the death of beautiful things,
it is black cashmere and black
corduroys faintly smelling of old
food and days of sweat and neglect;
sorrow is the pretension of Mozart’s
Requiem seeping under the door of
the lonely man; always lamenting
what he has lost—no, sorrow is
the woman I met in Ganthier
staring blankly into the cane fields,
her feet dusty, her skirt stained, 
her breath heavy with hunger;
she has nothing left—the litany
of her losses so epic, one cannot
repeat them in a poem, her sorrow
without tears, that is something.
Mine is merely the kind without
trauma; the insipid persistence
of regret, or perhaps the feeling
that happiness is the prelude
to tragedy. I should have learned
to drink, but instead I have
learned to chuckle ironically,
find quiet in the way things are.
Did you know I have an ankle
that sends sharp pains up my body
every few steps I take, every day 
of my life?

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019
Tribute to African Poets


Kwame Dawes: “There seems to be a connection between being a consumer of music, literature, and so forth, and being a creator of it. For me, those two things seem to coincide. The mindset of the writer I can trace back to the mindset of wanting to control the narrative of my life, which never otherwise felt like something I could control.” (web)

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