Equations of the Light
by Dana Gioia

Turning the corner, we discovered it
just as the old wrought-iron lamps went on—
a quiet, tree-lined street, only one block long
resting between the noisy avenues.

The streetlamps splashed the shadows of the leaves
across the whitewashed brick, and each tall window
glowing through the ivy-decked facade
promised lives as perfect as the light.

Walking beneath the trees, we counted all
the high black doors of houses bolted shut.
And yet we could have opened any door,
entered any room the evening offered.

Or were we deluded by the strange
equations of the light, the vagrant wind
searching the trees, that we believed this brief
conjunction of our separate lives was real?

It seemed that moment lingered like a ghost,
a flicker in the air, smaller than a moth,
a curl of smoke flaring from a match,
haunting a world it could not touch or hear.

There should have been a greeting or a sign,
the smile of a stranger, something beyond
the soft refusals of the summer air
and children trading secrets on the steps.

Traffic bellowed from the avenue.
Our shadows moved across the street’s long wall,
and at the end what else could I have done
but turn the corner back into my life?

SOURCE: “Equations of the Light” appears in Dana Gioia’s collection The Gods of Winter (Graywolf Press, 1991).

PHOTO: “New York City street” by Bryan Gerlach. Visit the photographer at this link.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dana Gioia is a poet and writer who also served as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  After attending Harvard and Stanford Universities, Gioia worked for 15 years at General Foods Corporation while writing at night and on the weekends. In 1992, he quit his job to write full-time. Gioia has published four books of poetry and three volumes of poetry criticism as well as opera libretti, translations, and over two dozen literary anthologies. His third poetry collection, Interrogations at Noon, won the 2002 American Book Award. Gioia’s poems have been reprinted in numerous anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Poetry and The Oxford Book of American Poetry. Gioia, the first poet to chair the NEA, created a series of national arts initiatives, including Poetry Out Loud, Shakespeare in American Communities, and the Big Read, as well as programs that supported jazz, dance, visual arts, and international cultural exchanges. In August 2011, Gioia became Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California. Visit him at