I Dare You

It’s autumn, and we’re getting rid
of books, getting ready to retire,
to move some place smaller, more
manageable. We’re living in reverse,
age-proofing the new house, nothing
on the floors to trip over, no hindrances
to the slowed mechanisms of our bodies,
a small table for two. Our world is
shrinking, our closets mostly empty,
gone the tight skirts and dancing shoes,
the bells and whistles. Now, when
someone comes to visit and admires
our complete works of Shakespeare,
the hawk feather in the open dictionary,
the iron angel on a shelf, we say
take them. This is the most important
time of all, the age of divestment,
knowing what we leave behind is
like the fragrance of blossoming trees
that grows stronger after
you’ve passed them, breathing
them in for a moment before
breathing them out. An ordinary
Tuesday when one of you says
I dare you, and the other one
just laughs.


Copyright © 2023 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘I Dare You’ was written while in the midst of downsizing from a large house in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I taught at North Carolina State for thirteen years, to a small home in California where we retired. I had a party for my grad students and told them they could survey the house and take anything that caught their eye or fancy. They filed out the door with a white lace parasol, a red sequined cocktail dress, a tin angel, throw pillows, canned vegetables, rolled up rugs, pictures, potted plants, towels, posters and coasters of Dolly Parton, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Cher, the dining room table, and a roll of toilet paper. It was exhilarating! All that ‘stuff’ gone from my life. I’m a poet, so I wrote a poem about it. But it’s also a poem about aging and accepting that you too will be carried out like a broken lamp and buried in the dump we call a graveyard, or scattered into a plot of land, or poured out over the ocean. This exodus was somehow a preparation for the acceptance of this fact. I did not expect the final line, but when it came, I knew that other world I had belonged to was coming to a close. Youth. Remember when you’d do anything on a dare? On a whim? And that feeling of Why not? Poof. What remains between us is mirth.
—Dorianne Laux