Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Rita Dove


A Poet a Day: Rita Dove

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.” Enjoy.
— Bill Moyers

Today we hear from former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove with her poem “Daystar.”

She tells Bill: “This poem comes out of a book of poems called Thomas and Beulah. The book tells the story of one couple’s life through most of the 20th century. It’s based upon my maternal grandparents. And what I really wanted to bring to light were those moments in a life which are unremarked upon. The ones that we — that are essential to who we are, but yet we don’t think are quote, unquote, ‘important enough’ to ever relate to anyone else and so they do disappear. …And in this moment Beulah, though in this poem …it’s just a ‘she.’ This is a woman who is caught in the throes of motherhood and wants to get one moment of peace from her children.”


She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming
on the line,

A doll slumped behind the door.
So she lugged a chair behind
the garage to sit out the
children’s naps

Sometimes there were things to watch—
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf.

Other days she stared until she
was assured when she closed
her eyes she’d only see her own
vivid blood.

She had an hour, at best,
before Liza appeared pouting from
the top of the stairs.

And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice?
Why, building a palace.

Later that night when Thomas
rolled over and lurched into her,

She would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour — where she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day

A 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for her collection Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove became the youngest and first African American Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry in 1993. Her numerous scholarly accomplishments also include serving as a White House Presidential Scholar and a Fulbright Scholar. On February 13, 2012, Dove was honored by President Obama with the 2011 National Medal of Arts.

Watch Bill’s entire interview with Rita Dove.

See all poets in the A Poet a Day Collection.