Ashes than Dust by Iris Jamahl Dunkle

“Let go said the
Let go said everything.”

–Brenda Hillman, “Split Tractate”


A fox sprinted across the dark driveway:
orange spark that trailed through the headlight’s spot.

You register this sighting as a totem. Then,
drive on into the life you’d written one way,
then revised due to characters disappearing.

In the nightmare. No, in the dream. (never
sure when it’s called a dream or a nightmare.

My son says it’s only a nightmare if
you wake up screaming
) there’s a dead body

being consumed by a writhing nest of
black and white snakes. They are re-writing what was lost.

When you wake you decide you would rather
be ashes than dust. You’d rather blaze out
like the fox, like a fur of sparks in the night,
than be left to rot, be untold.

By now, you thought time would have righted the swerve.
Thought your tires would have found tread. Instead,

you live in an echo chamber where owls
call and call, asking for forgiveness.


Iris Jamahl Dunkle was the 2017-2018 Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, CA. Interrupted Geographies is her third collection of poetry. It was featured as the Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection for July 2017. Her debut poetry collection, Gold Passage, was selected by Ross Gay to win the 2012 Trio Award. Her second collection, There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air, was published in 2015. Her work has been published in publications including San Francisco Chronicle, Fence, Calyx, Catamaran, Poet’s Market 2013, Women’s Studies, and Chicago Quarterly Review. Dunkle teaches at Napa Valley College and is the Poetry Director of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

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