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Interrogations at Noon: Poems

Interrogations at Noon: Poems

by Dana Gioia


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Winner of the American Book Award

Dana Gioia, an internationally known poet and critic, is notably prolific with his essays, reviews, translations, and anthologies. But like his celebrated teacher, Elizabeth Bishop, Gioia is meticulously painstaking and self-critical about his own poems. In an active 25-year career he has published only two previous volumes of poetry. Although Gioia is often recognized as a leading force in the recent revival of rhyme and meter in American poetry, his own work does not fit neatly into any one style.

Interrogations at Noon displays an extraordinary range of style and sensibility—from rhymed couplets to free verse, from surrealist elegy to satirical ballad. What unites the poems is not a single approach but their resonant musicality and powerful but understated emotion. This new collection explores the uninvited epiphanies of love and marriage, probing the quiet mysteries of a seemingly settled domestic life. Meditating on the inescapable themes of lyric poetry—time, mortality, nature, and the contradictions of the human heart—Gioia turns them to provocative and unexpected ends.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555973186
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 03/01/2001
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 5.53(w) x 8.93(h) x 0.33(d)

About the Author

An acclaimed poet, essayist, anthologist, BBC commentator, and critic, Dana Gioia is the author of three books of poems, the pioneering essay collection Can Poetry Matter?, and Nosferatu, a libretto. He was recently nominated to be Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and lives in Santa Rosa, California, with his family.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we beat crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.



The world does not need words. It articulates itself in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted. The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being. The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other— illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert. Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica. To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper— metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds, painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it. The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.


... and watching her undress across the room, oblivious of him, watching as herslip falls soundlessly and disappears in shadow, and the dim lamplight makes her curving frame seem momentarily both luminous and insubstantial—like the shadow of a cloud drifting across a hillside far away.

Watching her turn away, this slender ghost, this silhouette of mystery, his wife, walk naked to her bath, the room around her so long familiar that it is, like him, invisible to her, he sees himself suspended in the branches by the window, entering this strange bedroom with his eyes.

Seen from the darkness, even the walls glow— a golden woman lights the amber air. He looks and aches not only for her touch but for the secret that her presence brings. She is the moonlight, sovereign and detached. He is a shadow flattened on the pavement, the one whom locks and windows keep away.

But what he watches here is his own life. He is the missing man, the loyal husband, sitting in the room he craves to enter, surrounded by the flesh and furniture of home. He notices a cat curled on the bed. He hears a woman singing in the shower. The branches shake their dry leaves like alarms.


Just before noon I often hear a voice, Cool and insistent, whispering in my head. It is the better man I might have been, Who chronicles the life I've never led.

He cannot understand what grim mistake Granted me life but left him still unborn. He views his wayward brother with regret And hardly bothers to disguise his scorn.

"Who is the person you pretend to be?" He asks, "The failed saint, the simpering bore, The pale connoisseur of spent desire, The half-hearted hermit eyeing the door?

"You cultivate confusion like a rose In watery lies too weak to be untrue, And play the minor figures in the pageant, Extravagant and empty, that is you."


As with any child, you find your own more beautiful— eager to nurse it along, watch over it, and taking special pride as each day it grows more gorgeously like you.

Why not consider it a sort of accomplishment? Failure doesn't happen by itself. It takes time, effort, and a certain undeniable gift. Satisfaction comes from recognizing what you do best.

Most of what happens is never intended, but deep inside you know you planned this— not a slip or a fumble but a total rout. You only fail at what you really aim for.


Always be ready for the unexpected. Someone you have dreamed about may visit. Better clean house to make the right impression. There are some things you should not think about.

Someone you have dreamed about may visit. Is it an old friend you do not recognize? There are some things you should not think about. Who is the stranger standing at the door?

Is it an old friend you do not recognize? Notice the cool appraisal of his eyes. Who is the stranger standing at the door? You sometimes wonder what you're waiting for.

Notice the cool appraisal of his eyes. Better clean house to make the right impression. You sometimes wonder what you're waiting for. Always be ready for the unexpected.

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