American Life in Poetry: Column 696


My teacher and mentor, the late Karl Shapiro, once said of opera, "I'm afraid, Ted, that it's sort of silly." Here is a poem by Richard Schiffman that has a little fun with the hair-on-fire excesses of grand opera. It's from his book, What the Dust Doesn't Know, from Salmon Poetry.

After the Opera

The curtain parts one last time
and the ones who killed
and were killed,
who loved inordinately,
who went berserk, were flayed alive,
descended to Hades,
raged, wept, schemed—
victims and victimizers alike—
smile and nod and graciously bow.
So glad it's finally over,
they stride off
suddenly a bit ridiculous
in their overwrought costumes.
And the crowd—still dark,
like God beyond the footlights of the world—
rises to its feet
and roars like the sea.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry 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 ©2017 by Richard Schiffman, "After the Opera," from What the Dust Doesn't Know, (Salmon Poetry, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Richard Schiffman and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.