We use the term "musing" to describe a certain kind of thought or speech: purposeful but speculative, quiet on the surface but radically free. The musing mind or voice reaches its object not with a turbulent roar of rhetoric, but with the penetration of fine oil. The poems of Carl Dennis proceed to startling, sometimes even upsetting conclusions by that musing process of mind, alert and patient. A characteristic length for Dennis's poems in his new volume, Unknown Friends, is a page and a half, but "At the Border" is a bit shorter than that, building on a single, ramifying figure of speech: the past and the future like two countries, with a frontier -- each present moment -- between them. In its quiet, somewhat playful way, the poem carries that fairly simple idea to surprising depths, ending with a striking image of delusion:
At the Border
At the border between the past and the future
No sign on a post warns that your passport
Won't let you return to your native land
As a citizen, just as a tourist
Who won't be allowed to fraternize with the locals.
No guard steps out of a booth to explain
You can't bring gifts back, however modest,
Can't even pass a note to a few friends
That suggests what worries of theirs are misguided,
What expectations too ambitious.
Are you sure you're ready to leave,