New Dust

By Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan is one of America’s greatest living poets and writers of prose fiction and biography, and we are delighted to offer four new poems by him for the premiere of Appalachian Places. Readers familiar with his poetry will recognize his love for musical instruments, his deep knowledge of scientific phenomena, and the recurring presence of Uncle Robert, who appears in many of Morgan’s poems and stories. Each of these new pieces also features a relatively recent development in his poetry: the appearance of the rhyming end-couplet, which offers a startling sense of recognition and natural fulfillment to the poems. Morgan is a native of Zirconia, North Carolina, just outside Hendersonville. He has been called “the poet laureate of Appalachia,” and we believe these new poems demonstrate the ongoing case for that claim.


There is a dust as ancient as

the pocky surface of the moon,

and dust uncovered in Pompeii,

and dust in siftings of a tomb.

And dust on weighty library tomes,

and dust of interstellar space,

inside the vaults of time capsules,

and dust in graves that once was flesh.

But there is also living dust

in air around us every day,

the stive of motes and spores and spray

of infinitesimal particles,

We breathe the mites that pirouette

and dive with an electric lilt,

to wrestle off a fingertip

in microscopic ecstasy,

both radiant and galactic to

atomic spark or radical

far down the mensuration scale

in the remoteness of the small.



Robert Morgan is Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1971. Among his sixteen poetry collections are The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems (2004), October Crossing (2009), Terroir (2011), and Dark Energy (2015). His collections of short fiction include The Balm of Gilead Tree: New and Selected Stories (1999) and As Rain Turns to Snow and Other Stories (2017). He is the author of seven novels: The Hinterlands (1994), The Truest Pleasure (1995), Gap Creek (1999), This Rock (2001), Brave Enemies (2003), The Road from Gap Creek (2013), and Chasing the North Star (2016). He is also the author of two books of historical scholarship, Boone: A Biography (2007) and Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion (2011). Among his numerous awards are Poetry’s Eunice Tietjens Prize, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the James G. Hanes Poetry Prize from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts.