NJ Poet's Portraits
POEMS by Stephen Dunn
New & Selected Poems 1974-1994
on the Personal
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We Are Not Taken Seriously
[Published by W.W. Norton, 500 Fifth Ave. N.Y.
© 1994 by Stephen Dunn. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission
of the author.]
Stephen Dunn Biographical Note
Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses--
until we're ready. Always
it's a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn't read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone's.
We're left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.
if you believe nothing is always what's left
after a while, as I did,
If you believe you have this collection
of ungiven gifts, as I do (right here
behind the silence and the averted eyes)
If you believe an afternoon can collapse
into strange privacies-
how in your backyard, for example,
the shyness of flowers can be suddenly
overwhelming, and in the distance
the clear goddamn of thunder
personal, like a voice,
If you believe there's no correct response
to death, as I do; that even in grief
(where I've sat making plans)
there are small corners of joy
If your body sometimes is a light switch
in a house of insomniacs
If you can feel yourself straining
to be yourself every waking minute
If, as I am, you are almost smiling . . .
We Are Not Taken Seriously
Some night I wish they'd knock,
on my door, the government men,
looking for the poem of simple truths
recited and whispered among the people.
And when all I give them is silence
and my children are exiled
to the mountains, my wife forced
to renounce me in public,
I'll be the American poet
whose loneliness, finally, is relevant,
whose slightest movement
And when the revolution frees me,
its leaders wanting me to become
"Poet of the Revolution," I'll refuse
and keep a list of their terrible reprisals
and all the dark things I love
which they will abolish.
With the ghost of Mandelstam
on one shoulder, Lorca on the other,
I'll write the next poem, the one
that will ask only to be believed
once it's in the air, singing.
© 1994 by Stephen Dunn. All rights reserved. May be reprinted only by
expressed permission of the author.