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American Life in Poetry: ‘Fieldwork’

Kwame Dawes

By Kwame Dawes

There is a posture that poets sometimes take, that of the prophet speaking predictions into the world, or simply proclaiming what is happening in the moment. More often than not, the role is reluctantly embraced, for who wants to speak of calamity in the face of calamity? Joan Naviyuk Kane’s poem “Fieldwork” assumes a knowing that carries the authority of ancestral memory. It becomes urgent in this calamitous moment, a moment of drought and heat that is familiar to us these days. If there is hope, it lies in the expectation of movement: “as we move, / moon into moon.” The reluctant prophetess, too, wants to survive.


Another day of heat-

strangers continue to wobble

across the horizon, bringing drought

when instead we should have deluge.

I steep snow-lichen in water I

drew from a lake

which has since gone dry.

At sea few understood me,

as though I induced a sickness

that deafened, then healed.

As before, I predict lies,

to be pushed from the boat

time and time again.

Nevertheless, I expect

to get by while their widowers·

seek refuge with their provident

families; perhaps a storm will pile fish

at their doors when the red tide rises,

perhaps they will not follow as we move,

moon into moon, under another sky.

Joan Naviyuk Kane, “Fieldwork” from Dark Traffic (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021.) 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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