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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
magnificence,
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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