Saturday Poet: Stephen Dunn
One of my favorvite books is Different Hours.
After I buried the century's putrid corpse
and resolved to rid the world
of utopias and the fat
which had collected around my waist,
I kissed the lovely one I was with
and a few others I might as easily have slugged.
How festive it was at the mausoleum!
Even I wanted to dance the tarantella
until dawn, make love shamelessly in the open.
A few enemies extended their hands
and when the famous sentimentalist spoke
about his inner weather my heart sank so low
I poured myself a large, neat glass of Glenfiddich.
"Houston," I said, "Tranquility Base here,
the Eagle ahs landed." And my best friend laughed.
Meanwhile, the century had begun to stir
in its coffin; several of us sensed it.
Maybe it was the best parts of it
twitching to be remembered? Maybe Churchill
and Kafka and a handful of edgy others
were appalled by teh stench so near them?
But by this time all of us were used
to injustice. We partied on
into the tabula rasa of the new century
as if somehow we could erase our pasts
by just moving forward,
as if, come morning, we wouldn't wake
with the bitterest nostalgias.
My friend the pessimist thinks I'm optimistic
because I seem to believe in the next good thing.
But I see rueful shadows almost everywhere.
When the sun rises I think of collisions and AK-47s.
It's my mother's fault, who praised and loved me,
sent me into the dreadful world as if
it would tell me a story I'd understand. The fact is
optimism is the enemy of happiness.
I've learned to live for the next good thing
because lifelong friends write good-bye lettres,
because regret follows every timidity.
I'm glad I konw that all great romances are fleshed
with failure. I'll take a day of bitterness and rain
to placate the gods, to get it over with.
My mother told me I could be a great pianist
because I had long fingers. My fingers are small.
It's my mother's fault, every undeserved sweetness.
The Reverse Side
It's why when we speak a truth
some of us instantly feel foolish
as if a deck inside us has been shuffled
and there it is--the opposite
of what we said.
And perhaps why as we fall in love
we're already falling out of it.
It's why the terrified and the simple
latch onto one story,
just one version of the great mystery.
Image & afterimage, oh even
the open-minded yearn for a fiction
to rein things in--
the snapshot, the lie of a frame
How do we not go crazy,
we who have found ourselves compelled
to live within the circle, the elipsis, the word
not yet written.
"Vissi d'arte" sang Callas on my boombox
and, alone in early evening, swept up and stilled,
I saw myself as husband, poet, slackard,
undriven drifter through house and world.
I knew I could be distracted by weather,
lured by box scores and decolletage.
Puccini, though, must have lived for art,
as Callas certainly did, which is no doubt why
a small tear formed in teh corner
of my left eye, a kind of appaluse.
At which the mood insensitive clock gestured
my wife's plane would soon touch down.
I didn't want to move. Was Puccini
ever taken from such a fine moment?
Was Callas? They must have been, of course.
And couldn't bear it. Or ranted anyway
because they were brilliantly selfish,
or what involved them just then
was magical, in a sense their lives,
a virtuosity that shouldn't be disturbed.
Outside, the wind chime began to chime.
I was sure the promised storm would flirt,
then veer north. I had to stop
for gas. I had to make the bed I hadn't made.
since she left. Was the indoor cat in?
Were the windows down? All the way
to the airport I tried to amber,
beat read. I parked in short term. I ran.
Man of urgency. Man of what later,
with feeling, might be sung.