Incantation of the First Order

Listen, no one signed up for this lullaby. 
No bleeped sheep or rosebuds or twitching stars 
will diminish the fear or save you from waking 

into the same day you dreamed of leaving
mockingbird on back order, morning bells
stuck on snoozeso you might as well  

get up and at it, pestilence be damned. 
Peril and risk having become relative,
I’ll try to couch this in positive terms:

Never! is the word of last resorts, 
Always! the fanatic’s rallying cry. 
To those inclined toward kindness, I say

Come out of your houses drumming. All others, 
beware: I have discarded my smile but not my teeth.


Copyright © 2021 by Rita Dove. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 18, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Is an incantation a charm against evil, or its cradle? These uncertain times have released both the beauty and the beast in us, from the heroics of hospital workers to masking skirmishes at the supermarket checkout. To my astonishment, this poem conjured itself into a sonnet—fourteen belligerent lines, prickling from the aftertaste of thwarted longing—a report from a world whose fairy tale rule book has been redacted, where even rhymes are overruled by the rhetoric of survival.”
Rita Dove