Much of Dana Gioia's poetry might be set in the contemporary world, but a host of ancient, mythic references echo in the speakers' voices and the scenes they present to readers. In "Pity The Beautiful: Poems" (Graywolf: 75 pp., $15 paper), a new collection by the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (and now a professor of poetry at the University of Southern California), Gioia sounds an elegiac note as he considers lost loved ones, growing older and the daily frustrations that cause us to yearn for something more transcendent. The poem "The Coat" evokes a memory that the speaker pursues — even though he knows he will never find a suitable answer to his questions.
By Dana Gioia
I saw someone wearing your coat today,
The sleek, short pink one you bought in L.A.
I never liked it much — too bright, too retro —
But you brought it off. You always do.
I followed the woman down the icy street
Until she disappeared into the Metro.
Only then I realized I hadn't seen her face,
Except to register she wasn't you.
I thought of her traveling underground
To Shady Grove or Rockville Meadows,
Bearing away this relic of your grace,
A pink Persephone among pin-striped shadows.
Why had your ghost returned here with this warning?
Was it only to flaunt her power to flee?
Or had the coat itself come simply to taunt me
With the fragrance of spring on a cold, dead morning?