Published on Academy of American Poets (

from “After Dinner Was Over”

I am enlightened, a man
says after dinner, and he doesn’t
mean what you think
he means, he means he’s a product
of the Enlightenment, he’s talking
over his pain in the abyss
inside his gum, it’s called
an abscess (we actually call it
that, he’s taken painkillers,
he’s swallowed them
with the wine offered him). 


Hawks in the trees. Men
talking about philosophy. Lemon
julienned over the chicken
turning colors
in an adequate oven. Good times,
for a minute. The argument
about the correct use of the word surveillance
falls over my body.


The first time, I drank a beer
and hated it. The second, I craved
sugar water the colors of Gone
with the Wind
, the third,
I just saw everything disappear.
Most men say they would
give birth if they could.


The crossroads. What you bring
there to bury. The journey. Constant 
circling back, later at night,
and in darker weather. Terrible
to lose touch with your friends.
Forgive the metaphor that defends.
The usual becomes treacherous.
In the dream, all of them 
had children and lived
together in the same
house where it was always
Halloween, decked
with pumpkins and ghosts.


I could try
to be scared but not afraid.
Looking into the chicken
coop like a wolf.


Days late, I could see a snake
moving across the surface
of the lake, writing its path,
unwriting the path it did
not take. But it wasn’t
to be, that time. The effort
made towards what I wished.


You climbed the mountain with me, a recovering
moralist. You wanted
to stay on the path,
I wanted to find it.


Copyright © 2017 by Katie Peterson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I wake up every morning feeling like we are in the middle of a national misunderstanding. Before the election happened, earlier in the summer, I’d started writing about conversations that break down, or become arguments. These short poems from ‘After Dinner Was Over’ were written after a dinner party on a beautiful night frayed into discord. I wrote ‘Anger’ on the cover of the notebook I drafted them in, but the current title echoes the Catholic Eucharistic prayer: ‘When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples and said…’ There are so many subjects we cannot talk about without hurting each other or feeling threatened and still we have to live together.”
—Katie Peterson


Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson is the author of The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013). She lives in Woodland, California.

Date Published: 2017-01-13

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