Updated: May 23, 2020
By Rita Dove
Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken? No more princes for the poor. Loss whittling you thin. Grief is the constant now, hope the last word spoken. In a dance of two elegies, which circles the drain? A token year with its daisies and carbines is where we begin. Who comforts you now? That the wheel has broken is Mechanics 101; to keep dreaming when the joke’s on you? Well, crazier legends have been written. Grief is the constant now; hope, the last word spoken on a motel balcony, shouted in a hotel kitchen. No kin can make this journey for you. The route’s locked in. Who comforts you now that the wheel has broken the bodies of its makers? Beyond the smoke and ashes, what you hear rising is nothing but the wind. Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken, grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken.
Rita Dove (1952) is one of the most recognized poets in the contemporary United States. She is one of the most acclaimed African American woman poets. Dove served the USA as poet laureate from 1993-1995. Her work "Thomas & Beulah" won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. That work offers a poetic dialogue based on the lives of her real life grandparents and is one of the most original pieces of poetic literature (and history) I have ever read. But here, in the poem "Testimony: 1968", Dove reflects on the chaos of fear, grief and hope that was experienced in the USA in 1968. The repeating refrain "Who comforts you? Now that the wheel has broken, grief is the constant. Hope: the last word spoken" seems to speak directly to how many people are feeling in April 2020 with the Covid-19 virus threatening us all, many people sick and dying, a federal government in chaos and a country of people politically and culturally divided. Has the wheel broken? Who then comforts you? Though I believe that grief is constant, I also believe that hope will be the last word spoken!