David Rakoff

David Rakoff during an interview in Toronto. (Frank Gunn / Asoociated Press / September 16, 2010)

If rhyming poetry makes you back off —

Try "Love, Dishonor..." by the late David Rakoff.

Although it's writ in the style of Seuss,

Its dazzling wit (never obtuse) —

Will keep you following its masterful plot

And after a while, the tetrameter trot,

The tap-dancing, cliff-hanging, dizzying rhyme

Will begin to seem natural, in metronome time.

'Cause metronome time is the beat of the heart,

The tick-tock, the chiming of breath from the start.

Once you swing with the couplets, the repetitive drive,

The narrative, ambitious, comes fiercely alive.

The story spans decades, collapsing the years,

Linking deftly drawn lives, as each Now disappears.

Rakoff was not just a satirist, something much more,

His characters are wounded, they seem to implore

Us to consider the products of cruelty and hate

vs. acts of compassion, how love can change fate.

Or not. He offers us lives wracked by rape & abuse,

A lonely abortion, AIDS, then — like a truce —

The healing of love: gay, straight, altruistic —

The kindness of strangers, a clear realistic

Look at what the heart gives to volition:

The will to consider another's condition.

And the strength to face death, as this writer faced his —

Unflinching, but obsessed with what could be, what is.

"When poetic phrases like 'eyes, look your last'

Become true all you want is to stay, to hold fast,"

He wrote. And though he refused to airbrush the view,

Characters Margaret, Clifford and bright Helen too —

Remind us of why we too long to hold fast

That we've each once felt love, that our present's that past.

Muske-Dukes is the author of several books of poems and novels and professor of English/creative writing at USC.


Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

David Rakoff
Doubleday: 128 pp., $26.95


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