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By Rita Dove

We were dancing—it must have

been a foxtrot or a waltz,

something romantic but

requiring restraint,

rise and fall, precise

execution as we moved

into the next song without

stopping, two chests heaving

above a seven-league

stride—such perfect agony,

one learns to smile through,

ecstatic mimicry

being the sine qua non

of American Smooth.

And because I was distracted

by the effort of

keeping my frame

(the leftward lean, head turned

just enough to gaze out

past your ear and always

smiling, smiling),

I didn’t notice

how still you’d become until

we had done it

(for two measures?

four?)—achieved flight,

that swift and serene


before the earth

remembered who we were

and brought us down. 

Rita Dove, “American Smooth” from American Smooth. Copyright © 2004 by Rita Dove. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: American Smooth (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2004)

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Poet Bio

Rita Dove
The second African-American woman to be named Poet Laureate of the United States, and only the second to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry (Thomas and Beulah, 1987), Rita Dove has achieved a great deal in her career.  Her multi-layered poems dramatize the stories of individuals both living and dead against the backdrop of larger historical forces. See More By This Poet

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