American Life in Poetry: Sometimes we wonder what unfailing means

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Jehanne Dubrow’s finely crafted sonnet, her own “simple machine,” reminds us so well of that moment, full of contradictory emotions, when the things we think are “unfailing”, fail us. She reflects on the fear of having to put aside an old, cherished thing to acquire what she calls “clean and bright” things. In the end, time wins.

The poem is from a collection of sonnets recently published in her book, “Simple Machine: Sonnets.”

[“Sometimes we wonder what unfailing means…”]
By Jehanne Dubrow
Sometimes we wonder what unfailing means
when nothing’s warrantied to last. Our car
breaks down among the clay-red hills, ravines
unmarked. Nowhere, New Mexico. We’re far
from cities that we know. It takes three days
to tow our brokenness across the state,
driving half-speed and braking for delays,
the detours up ahead. I navigate.
You drive. I tell you, I want clean and bright,
to trade in clattering and rubberneck
for speed or just fidelity. The light
is leaking from the sky, our trip a wreck.
You say, repairing engines is an art—
all of these small devices split apart.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Jehanne Dubrow, [“Sometimes we wonder what unfailing means…”] from Simple Machine: Sonnets, (University of Evansville Press, 2020.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.