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Poetry Moment: 'Aubade' by Raena Shirali

Poet Raena Shirali
Poet Raena Shirali

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode’s poem is “Aubade” by Raena Shirali.

Raena Shirali is the author of two collections of poetry. Her first book, GILT, won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award, and her second, summonings, won the 2021 Hudson Prize. Winner of a Pushcart Prize and a former Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Shirali is also the recipient of prizes and honors from VIDA, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, & Cosmonauts Avenue. Shirali holds an MFA in Poetry from The Ohio State University and is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. The Indian American poet was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and now lives in Philadelphia.

An aubade is a poetic form with roots more than a thousand years old, a love song welcoming or lamenting the arrival of the dawn. Often associated with the rural or pastoral, the aubade might be full of references to songbirds and dew, soft light entering a window where a breeze carries the scent of blossoming flowers. Today’s poem, however, is set in an urban space where the sound of bulldozers demolishing old buildings intrudes upon the morning while our speaker considers her fraught relationship with a lover, the possibility of that love leaving.

Here's —


                                         This summer
our curtains are always pulled shut. When I wake
it’s to the sound of metal scraping stone.
Bulldozers tear chunks of brick
from the building next door. You say,

We’ve lived here too long, & you might be right:
the sheets are slowly stiffening, the headboard creaking
away from the frame. Your hair shakes out sawdust
when you climb on top. Everything we own together
is covered in film—the lint on the radiator, the spit

on my neck, debris outside our windows, grime
in the hall where you’ve tracked your work back in.
                                         This summer,
I live in a plash of various salts from your body. I burrow
despite your leaving. I say, You smell like dirt, but mean,

Your teeth are square blessings
when they graze. Tomorrow morning will be
just like this. You will thank my earlobes for liking
the touch. You will thank my elbows for bending
that way. Even though you are leaving

me, this will not be a gesture of solace.
Even on your neck           the scent of pine.


That was “Aubade” by Raena Shirali.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at

Music by Eric Ian Farmer.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.