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Wednesday, March 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry: ‘After the Opera’ by Richard Schiffman

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

My teacher and mentor, the late Karl Shapiro, once said of opera, “I’m afraid, Ted, that it’s sort of silly.” Here is a poem by Richard Schiffman that has a little fun with the hair-on-fire excesses of grand opera. It’s from his book, “What the Dust Doesn’t Know,” from Salmon Poetry.

After the Opera

The curtain parts one last time

and the ones who killed

and were killed,

who loved inordinately,

who went berserk, were flayed alive,

descended to Hades,

raged, wept, schemed –

victims and victimizers alike –

smile and nod and graciously bow.

So glad it’s finally over,

they stride off

suddenly a bit ridiculous

in their overwrought costumes.

And the crowd—still dark,

like God beyond the footlights of the world—

rises to its feet

and roars like the sea.

Poem copyright 2017 by Richard Schiffman, “After the Opera,” from “What the Dust Doesn’t Know,” (Salmon Poetry, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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