We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.
We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.
The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.
To my surprise, you took my arm —
A gesture you didn’t explain —
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.
Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.
I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn’t speak another word
Except to say goodnight.
Why does that evening’s memory
Return with this night’s storm —
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?
There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won’t stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.
And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.
Interrogations at Noon (2001)
Commentary: My friend Melody told me that this was the poem that made her fall in love with poetry. Melody knows why. As for me, when she told me that it was a Dana Gioia poem that made her fall, I was delighted because I remembered meeting him once in California.
He came to give a poetry reading at UC Davis. He recites all of his poems from memory. His performance is beautiful to behold. He recited one of Shakespeare’s love sonnets, too, to my friend Jen Hoofard, which delighted her. But the poem I remember best from that reading was the one about his little boy who died and is buried under a redwood tree.
Later I went out to coffee with him and a few others at a little place called Mishka’s. I think it was Mishka’s. We talked about Washington, DC and Dante’s Florence in Italy, among other things.
When he said goodbye, he kissed me on the cheek, a good Italian arrivederci. Utterly charming. I seriously doubt he would remember this, given that he became the director of the NEA afterwards, and was consequently quite busy. But I remember it.
That’s what counts.