This painting of a barn and barnyard near sundown
May be enough to suggest we don’t have to turn
From the visible world to the invisible
In order to grasp the truth of things.
We don’t always have to distrust appearances.
Not if we’re patient. Not if we’re willing
To wait for the sun to reach the angle
When whatever it touches, however retiring,
Feels invited to step forward
Into a moment that might seem to us
Familiar if we gave ourselves more often
To the task of witnessing. Now to witness
A barn and barnyard on a day of rest
When the usual veil of dust and smoke
Is lifted a moment and things appear
To resemble closely what in fact they are.
Copyright © 2018 by Carl Dennis
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Carl Dennis is the author of twelve previous works of poetry, as well as a collection of essays, Poetry as Persuasion. In 2000 he received the Ruth Lilly Prize for his contribution to American poetry. His 2001 collection Practical Gods won the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Buffalo, New York.
The poems in Night School are informed by an engagement with a world not fully accessible to the light of day, a world that can only be known with help from the imagination, whether we focus on ourselves, on people close at hand, or on the larger society. Only if we imagine alternatives to our present selves, Dennis suggests, can we begin to grasp who we are. Only if we imagine what is hidden from us about the lives of others can those lives begin to seem whole. Only if we can conceive of a social world different from the one we seem to inhabit can we begin to make sense of the country we call our own. To read these poems is to find ourselves invited into a dialogue between what is present and what is absent that proves surprising and enlarging.