As common as dust, my Grandma Mona used to say by which she meant as ubiquitous as sun rises and death. Despite the most diligent attempts to defeat it, it settles everywhere because it floats invisibly, save in a ray of sunshine through a window. We inhale it with every breath we take. In my less-than-cleaned study it lies thick on every surface that is not touched daily. But other than in that Bible verse cited at funerals and Woody Guthrie ballads precious little attention has been paid to this commonplace fact of life by writers and poets.
Here are two who noticed.Danusha Laméris
Danusha Laméris was born in 1971 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of The Moons of August (Autumn House Press) in 2014which was selected as the 2013 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, and Bonfire Opera (University of Pittsburgh Press, in 2020. She teaches poetry independently and lives in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in coastal California.
It covers everything, fine powder,
the earth’s gold breath falling softly
on the dark wood dresser, blue ceramic bowls,
picture frames on the wall. It wafts up
from canyons, carried on the wind,
on the wings of birds, in the rough fur of animals
as they rise from the ground. Sometimes it’s copper,
sometimes dark as ink. In great storms,
it even crosses the sea. Once
when my grandmother was a girl,
a strong gale lifted red dust from Africa
and took it thousands of miles away
to the Caribbean where people swept it
from their doorsteps, kept it in small jars,
reminder of that other home.
Gandhi said, “The seeker after truth
should be humbler than the dust.”
Wherever we go, it follows.
I take a damp cloth, swipe the windowsills,
the lamp’s taut shade, run a finger
over the dining room table.
And still, it returns, settling in the gaps
between the floorboards, gilding the edges
of unread books. What could be more loyal,
more lonely, and unsung?
From Bonfire Opera by Danusha Laméris, © 2020.What goes up, must come down. Dust enveloped Manhattan after the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11.
The Old Man has frequently inflicted his verse on the reader of this blog. This poem is one of several he wrote over the years marking the anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks. This one appeared nearly 20 years ago.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
September 9, 2011, Crystal Lake, Illinois
The ash and dust, they say,
rose as high as the skirts
of the ionosphere.
Prevailing winds pushed it
across oceans and around the world.
Most has sifted by now to the earth.
Some orbits still,
now and again.
My study is a cluttered mess.
Dust lays on any unattended
makes webs in corners,
balls in computer wire rats nests,
devils under bookshelves.
That speck, that one there,
the one by the stapler,
just might be what’s left
of the Dominican cleaner
who left her children
with their Abuela
and went to work
in the sky
only to be vaporized.
It is an honor to meet you.